“Truth and Lies”
Worship Script 3
Worship Script (3 of 4)
Truth like A River
by Patrick Murfin, #238 in Lifting Our Voices
We believe --
That many streams join to make a river,
That the way to wisdom lies in an open ear and heart,
That goodness may be pursued for the sake of goodness
And not from fear of punishment,
That knowing and not knowing are part of the same,
And ambiguity is permissible.
HYMN #194 Faith Is a Forest
Keshad Chandra Sen, Arranged by John Haynes Holmes, #474 Singing the Living Tradition
Unto the church universal, which is the depositary of all ancient wisdom and the school of all modern thought;
Which recognizes in all prophets a harmony, in all scriptures a unity, and through all dispensations a continuity;
Which abjures all that separates and divides, and always magnifies all the unifies and brings peace;
Which seeks truth in freedom, justice in love, and individual discipline in social duty;
And which shall make of all classes, nations, races, one global community;
Unto this church and unto all it’s member, known and unknown throughout the world,
We pledge the allegiance of our hands and hearts.
“other truths” by Orlanda Brugnola, from Moorings: Moments of Meditation and Prayer
It is often comforting
To distinguish what we believe
From what others believe.
It is one of the ways that we remind ourselves
Of what we stand for.
May we know
The inescapable arrogance of that.
May we seek to temper our hearts
With respect for others
And with a sense of the grandness
Of so many human strivings
Toward what may be called the divine.
May we know ourselves touched
By the truths learned first by others
As well as those which are organized
In our own souls.
May we seek those truths
Which most clearly
And most compassionately
Offer structure to our understanding.
May we encourage all those
Who seek with us or without us.
HYMN #193 Our Faith is but a Single Gem
STORY FOR ALL AGES
Faith Like a Walking Stick by Gary Kowalski
How many of you like to go hiking? I have a number of walks nearby that I like. Hunger Mountain, Snake Mountain and others. Or if we don’t want to drive, my wife and I just go down to our local park where in just a few steps you can forget you’re in the city. Sometimes we bring our dog Smokey along and Smokey isn’t as strong or fast as he used to be. But that’s okay because I’m not as young or fast as I used to be either. And Smokey reminds me to slow down.
A walk in the woods isn’t a race, after all. It’s not all about seeing how fast you can go, or how quickly you can get to the end of the trail. A walk can be like a meditation, a series of moments to be aware of all the sights and sounds along the way. If you’re in too big a hurry, you forget to hear the birds sing and might not see that little mushroom growing under the tree, the one with the yellow cap.
But even when you take your time, a walk can sometimes be tough going. What if it starts to rain? And what if there’s a wet, soggy, boggy place where the stepping stones are few and far between? Well, in those cases, I’ve found a couple of things that help. First of all, it helps to have a friend or two along, because then even if it starts to pour and the raindrops are trickling down your nose, you can always sing a song together, and it’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’re singing an old Beatles song. And for those soggy, boggy places, if you can’t have a friend along, there’s nothing like a walking stick, which helps you keep your balance, and whether you’re walking up hill or down makes you a little steadier on your legs.
Walking sticks make me think about our faith, Unitarian Universalism, which is a little different from other religions. Because for us, life is like a long walk, or a journey. It starts when we’re little children and just learning about our world, and then grows as we grow. With each step, we’re always gathering more information and gaining more experiences, finding out about ourselves and as we explore our beliefs change. The things we imagine might be true when we’re six years old are different from the dreams we have when we’re sixty. And none of us is just certain where or how the trail ends, or what we’ll find when we finally reach the mountain top. But we know that other people have walked this way before and that gives us the hope and courage to continue on the adventure.
Now just like on a long trail, life sometimes gets a little tough and can even be scary. And that’s why it helps to have friends, and a spiritual community like this one And at times we start to lose our balance and begin to fall down. And then it’s handy to have a walking stick along.
Unitarian Universalism, our religion, is like a walking stick. It’s not a religion that solves all our problems. It’s not a religion that can magically lift us over the muddy places. It’s not a religion that spares us the necessity to dig deep and struggle when there’s a big boulder we have to climb over or other challenges come along. But it is a religion that can help us keep our equilibrium, that helps us keep our feet on the ground, which reminds us when the going gets hard that each of us is strong, each of us is resilient, each of us is capable, however we identify our gender, our ethnicity, our race; whether we’re big or little. And Unitarian Universalism is a faith that encourages each one of us to find and make our own beliefs—not a one-size fits all religion—but one we constantly tool and re-tool as we go.
So this is my personal walking stick. (Show kids my stick.) It even has my initials on it, G.K. But each of you will have the opportunity to make your own stick, just the right size and weight, the right thickness so you can have a firm grip, to help you go wherever you need to go. And as Unitarian Universalists, you too can find and make a religion you can call your own.
“Go Boldly” by Jean M. Olson
May you be brave enough to expose
your aching woundedness
and reveal your vulnerability.
May you speak your deepest truths,
knowing that they will change as you do.
May you sing the music within you,
composing your own melody,
playing your song with all your heart.
May you draw, paint, sculpt, and sew,
showing the world your vision.
May you write letters, poetry, biography,
slogans, graffiti, the great novel,
laying bare your words to love and hate.
May you love even though your heart
breaks again and again.
And until the end of your days,
may your life be filled
with possibilities and courage.
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.
A River or a Rock: The Meaning(s) of Religious Truth, by Rev. Tim Temerson
I want to begin this morning with what has to be one of the most frequently heard
statements made about Unitarian Universalism. This statement is offered by some as a
reason to celebrate our faith while others make the exact same statement to point out a
very serious flaw in Unitarian Universalism.
“In Unitarian Universalism you can believe whatever you want.”
I’m curious, how many here have heard this statement before or perhaps offered
it themselves when trying to describe or explain Unitarian Universalism?
For those who offer these words as a compliment, Unitarian Universalism is all
about individual freedom – the freedom to seek, to explore, to question, and to believe
what your heart and mind tell you is true. And that freedom at the heart of our faith is
best exemplified by Unitarian Universalism’s lack of a creed or single test of faith that
one must accept in order to be a UU.
For those who offer this same statement as a criticism of Unitarian Universalism, I
think it’s fair to say that they view religions like ours as being too individualistic and too
subjective. The absence of a creed that we UUs view as being a positive strength is, in
fact, a glaring weakness because people need to anchor their lives in a some kind of
over-arching certainty and truth about the meaning and purpose of existence.
Now, at this point I could easily launch into one my favorite sermon topics which
can be boiled down to “freedom good, creeds bad.” I’ve preached that sermon many
times before and will undoubtedly do so again.
But I want to do something a little different today. Rather than simply celebrating
our commitment to religious freedom and our rejection of creeds and doctrines, I want
to take some time to explore with you the philosophical and theological roots of our
approach to religion and especially our understanding of religious truth. Too often in
Unitarian Universalism, I think we skip over this step, instead jumping right to “we don’t
like creeds” or “we can believe whatever we want” without ever taking the time to
So let’s begin with this whole question of religious truth. What exactly is it and
where does it come from? Is there one truth, many truths, or no truth at all? And why
exactly do we Unitarian Universalists reject creeds? Is it because we simply don’t agree
with the specific content of existing creeds or is it because there is something about
creeds in general that doesn’t fit with our understanding of the nature and meaning of
As we consider these questions, I want to begin with that story you heard a few
minutes ago. I first encountered it in a class I took in seminary on the history and
development of the Jewish tradition. In that class we learned about the Torah and the
Talmud, about the vast body of Jewish law known as Halacha, and about mystical
traditions like Kabbalah and Hasidism. But if there is one thing that really stood out for
me about the class and that enriched not simply my knowledge of Judaism but also my
understanding of Unitarian Universalism, it is the way in which the Jewish tradition
approaches the search for religious truth and meaning.
And that approach is beautifully captured by that story from the Talmud. In the
story, a legal dispute between two schools of thought has been going on for quite some
time. God eventually resolves the dispute by deciding that while both sides have made
arguments that are true, one side prevails because it has made its arguments with
humility and good will and has listened to and learned from the truths contained in the
arguments made by the other side.
Think for a minute about what the story is telling us about truth. Truth is not
found in just one argument, in just one belief, or on just one side. Rather, it emerges in
the interaction of different ideas and diverse perspectives. God rules on behalf of the
House of Hillel because while the other side only listened to themselves and to their own
ideas, the House of Hillel listened to and learned from the wisdom of the other.
And as I came to learn in that class, this spirit of ongoing and continuous
argument, commentary, listening, and conversation is at the heart of the Jewish
understanding of religious truth. While Judaism recognizes and affirms the sanctity and
sacredness of the Torah, the truth in the text only emerges out of continuous
exploration and interpretation of its meaning. That is why so much of the Jewish
tradition is a vast and voluminous dialogue among different voices and commentators –
a dialogue that both reveals the truth as it is understood at a particular moment in time
and that is always laying the groundwork for future generations to develop new truths
and new ways of understanding God, the world, and ourselves. In Judaism, the search
for the truth and the conversation out of which truth emerges never ends.
And it is this understanding of and approach to religious truth that inspires the title
of today’s sermon – “A River or a Rock.” For those faith traditions rooted in a single
creed, religious truth resembles a rock – solid, unmoving, and unchanging. Truth is like
a piece of property that one faith can claim and own to the exclusion of others. But for
traditions like Judaism and, as I will argue, Unitarian Universalism, religious truth
resembles a river of continuous and ongoing revelation, interpretation, and conversation
– a river that never stops moving and that is always creating great and profound truths
out of the interaction of countless ideas and voices. Religious truth, therefore, can never
be fully or definitively found in just the words of one person, one sacred text, or even
one religion because truth is always emerging, always unfolding, always carrying us
along a marvelous journey of discovery and exploration.
In the first part of this morning’s sermon, I distinguished between two approaches
to religious truth – the rock or property model which sees religious truth as being a
single belief or set of beliefs that are eternal and unchanging and that belong exclusively
to only one religion, and a river or pluralistic model that sees religious truth as a moving
and evolving reality that emerges out of the interaction among a wide variety of
influences and ideas, experiences and stories, conversation and dialogue.
It is this understanding of religious truth that informs Unitarian Universalism. From
our beginnings almost 500 years ago during the Protestant Reformation right up to the
present day, Unitarian Universalism has been rooted in an understanding of truth that is
open, continuous, pluralistic, and diverse. We see truth as living in and emerging out of
all things and all people. Religious truth lives in sacred books like the Torah, the Koran,
and the Bhagavad Gita. Religious truth lives in the rhythms, regularities, and processes
of nature and the universe. Religious truth lives in the words and deeds of prophetic and
spiritual leaders like Jesus, Gandhi, and Mother Theresa. Religious truth lives in the
creative imagination – in music, in the visual arts, and in works of literature and poetry.
And religious truth most certainly lives in all of you – in your experiences, your stories,
your joys and your sorrows, your hopes and your dreams. There is no limit, no end, no
boundary or barrier privileging one source of truth over another. In Unitarian
Universalism, truth lives in and is revealed in everything.
I don’t know if many of you are familiar with what is called the Living Tradition of
Unitarian Universalism. The Living Tradition is a list of six sources of religious and
spiritual truth lifted up as being especially important for Unitarian Universalists.
Of course, this list of sources is not complete or exhaustive. No perfect or all
inclusive list exists or can ever be fully written in Unitarian Universalism. But what
matters most is not how complete or exhaustive our list of sources is or can be. Rather,
what matters most is that the river is always flowing, always moving, always revealing
new sources, new currents, new ideas, new values, and new truths.
And it is this reality of truth as evolving and emerging out of the diversity of life
itself that explains why we Unitarian Universalists do not have a single creed or dogma.
Reality is simply too diverse, too mysterious, too complex, and too dynamic to be
captured by one statement, by one belief, by one text, or even by one religion. Our
problem with creeds isn’t that they are wrong; a creed, in fact, is one more source of
spiritual truth and wisdom. Our problem with creeds is that they are absolute and not
reflective of the dynamism and diversity of creation. With a creed, truth is final and the
conversation is closed. In Unitarian Universalism, truth is never final and the
conversation never ends.
And that leads me back to that statement about Unitarian Universalism being a
religion in which you can believe anything you want. I think our commitment to truth as
an always unfolding and ever-flowing river, to truth as the living product of the
interaction of an infinite number of sources and of an unending conversation has led
some, including many Unitarian Universalists, to conclude that when it comes right down
to it, Unitarian Universalism is so wide open, so inclusive, and so free that we lack
anything resembling shared truth. In Unitarian Universalism, when it comes to truth it is
basically every person for themselves.
Well, I’m here to tell you that nothing could be further from well, the truth. You
see, in addition to sharing with the Jewish tradition an unending commitment to the
search for truth, we also share with Judaism a belief in the existence and authority of a
particular kind of religious truth – truth that emerges not from a single creed but rather
from the agreements we make with one another. You see, in both Judaism and Unitarian
Universalism, truth is covenantal rather than creedal.
When we say that Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal rather than a creedal
faith, it simply means that we UUs journey together guided not by a single creed written
in the distant past but instead by a set of promises and agreements that we make with
each other about what we believe and how we will live. That is essentially what a
covenant is – a set of promises or agreements human beings make with one another. Of
course, covenants, like all agreements, are subject to review and revision. Covenants
change as new ideas, new needs, and new realities emerge. But even though they are
subject to change, covenants, and especially religious covenants, are affirmations of
deep and profound truths – truths that can be just as meaningful and just as important
as any creed.
The truth that lives in our covenants defines and shapes who we are and how we
live as Unitarian Universalists. Our covenants lift up and affirm beliefs and values that
guide us as people of faith. Think for a moment about the most important covenant in
Unitarian Universalism – the covenant that affirms our seven Unitarian Universalist
These seven principles are a reflection of who we are as people of faith. They
emerged out of a long and inclusive dialogue among Unitarian Universalists about our
most deeply held beliefs and convictions. The Seven Principles are reviewed from time to
time and can be changed. But while the content of these principles will undoubtedly
change in the future, today they serve as an affirmation of our deepest truths and
convictions and as a stirring call to live our lives as a shared journey rooted in those
things we believe and value most - love and freedom, compassion and justice for all
people and for this planet.
So the next time you find yourself having a conversation about religion or what
church you attend, I hope you’ll share something of our approach to and understanding
of religious truth. I know that summing up Unitarian Universalism in a sentence or two
(the so called “elevator speech”) is never easy because we don’t have a creed. But don’t
mistake our lack of a creed for an absence of truth or conviction. We have beliefs, we
have convictions - we have deep and lasting truths. Of course, the truths we affirm
today may someday change and are never carved in stone. But as people of faith, we
find meaning and inspiration in the journey those principles challenge and inspire us to
make – a journey that calls us to listen, to learn, and to grow and that challenges us to
build a world that is free and fair and just not only for ourselves but for the whole
human family. Those are our truths, our principles, our values. May they bring us
meaning and purpose, hope and joy this day and every day.
HYMN #1064 Blue Boat Home
Buddhist words, #679 Singing the Living Tradition
Be ye lamps unto yourselves; be your own confidence.
Hold to the truth within yourselves as to the only lamp.