Hope and Despair”

Worship Script 1


 Worship Script (1 of 4)

“Holding Hope for Love”

OPENING WORDS

by Emily Dickinson, #194 in Lifting Our Voices

Love is anterior to life,

Posterior to death,

Initial of creation,

And the exponent of breath.

  

HYMN #323  Break Not the Circle

 

FIRST READING

By Maya Angelou, adapted, #185 in Lifting Our Voices

 We are weaned from our timidity

 In the flesh of love’s light

We dare be brave

 And suddenly we see

That love cost all we are

And will ever be

 Yet it is only love

Which sets us free.

  

SECOND READING

Excerpt from the Sermon “Loving Your Enemies” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as found in A Gift of Love: Sermons from Strength to Love and Other Preachings

Why should we love our enemies?  The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.  Darkness cannot drive out darkness;  only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says “Love your enemies,”  he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies -  or else?  The chain of evil -  hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars -  must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

HYMN #18  What Wondrous Love Is This

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
Ruby Bridges, Surrounded by Love by Janeen K Grohsmeyer, from Tapestry of Faith: Love Surrounds Us

 When Ruby Bridges was six years old and in the first grade, just like many other children, she went to a new school. Ruby's school was called William Frantz Elementary School. It was in the City of New Orleans in the state of Louisiana.

And, just like other children, Ruby was nervous about the first day of school. She knew everything was going to be different: a new building, new teachers, new rules, new things to learn, new children to play with, and (she hoped) new friends.

But, unlike other children, Ruby didn't go to school by walking or riding in her parents' car or in a school bus. Ruby went to school in a police car, followed by people from her neighborhood to help keep her safe. Ruby walked to the front door of her school surrounded by four tall men who had guns and wore armbands with the words "U.S. Marshal" on their sleeves.

Because Ruby wasn't just like the other children at William Frantz Elementary School. She was the only African American child in the entire school, and some people didn't think she should be there.

You see, Ruby started first grade in 1960, about fifty years ago. Back then, in some parts of the United States, children with different skin colors went to different schools. There were schools for children with dark skin, and there with schools for children with light skin. That was called segregation.

Some people liked segregation, but other people knew it wasn't fair. Our government had made a law that said all children—no matter what their skin color—should be able to go to the same school. That is called integration.

The parents at William Frantz Elementary School who liked segregation did not like integration. Because Ruby had dark skin, they thought she didn't belong at the school. They kept their children home from school, away from her. Ruby was the only student in her class. She didn't have anyone to play with or to talk to, except for her teacher, all day long.

And every day, those people who didn't like integration would go to Ruby's school, and they would yell horrible, mean things at her. Some called her names. One woman threatened to poison her. Sometimes they would even throw rocks or eggs or tomatoes, trying to keep her away from the school.

Yet every day, Ruby Bridges would go to that school. She would get dressed and eat breakfast and get ready for school, and then her mother would say, "I'm proud of you," and her father would say, "You're my brave little girl," and they would all say, "I love you" to each other.

Every day, her neighbors would surround the police car that Ruby was riding in, and the four U.S. Marshals would surround her as she walked through that crowd of angry people, to help keep her safe.

And every day, Ruby would say a prayer—but not for herself. Ruby prayed for the angry people who yelled at her, asking God to forgive them and to change their minds. When Ruby Bridges was surrounded by hate, she surrounded everyone with love.

After a while, it worked.

The next year, when Ruby Bridges was seven years old and starting the second grade, the angry crowd of people wasn't there anymore. She didn't have to ride in a police car. There were no U.S. Marshals surrounding her. People let their children go to William Frantz Elementary School, even though Ruby was there.

When Ruby went to her classroom on that first day of second grade, there were twenty other children. Some of them had dark skin, like her. Some of them would be her friends. Integration had happened, and William Frantz Elementary School was a school for all children, no matter what color skin they had.

Fifty years ago, Ruby Bridges helped to integrate a school, and integration helped make our country more fair for everyone. Today, Ruby Bridges is all grown-up, and she travels to schools all over the country, telling her story and teaching people to respect and appreciate each other.

Each of us can be like Ruby. We can all surround each other with love.

  

MEDITATION

By Wayne B. Arnason,, #209 in Lifting Our Voices

 O God, you surround us.

In you we have our being.

Help us to recognize the love that surrounds us.

Help us to see ourselves as a loving people we are and can be.

In silence, now, we bring to our mind's eye the people who have loved us and continue to love us, people who are not here with us today, But whose love we carry with us;

People who are their everyday, And his love we sometimes take for granted,

People who might be within our circle of love, could we but extend it a little further.

In silence, now, we hold these people in our hearts.

 [silence]

 In returning from silence, We ask that our hearts may be opened to all those whose names and faces have crossed our minds and that the love we share with the people in our lives  may be our abiding teacher.

 

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 for Healing, by Shari Woodbury

In the early years of mothering my child – with intermittent sleep, a babe ever-in-arms, a toddler who wanted Mommy’s constant attention – I sometimes felt like I was pouring my love into a bottomless well. In moments of exhaustion, I wondered if all of this caring would ever boomerang back to me, or if this sweet child would drain me to the last drop of energy. (If there is anyone here who has a new baby or is planning a family, please know that every child and every parent are different. I am not predicting your future. This was just my reality.)

My daughter Avonelle is seven now. Sometime between four and five, things began to shift. All that affection, patience, and heart-aching love I had poured into this dear little being – I began to get it back. I began to regularly hear my own words spoken in her lilting voice:  “Mom-meeeee!  I love you sooo much!  I’m so glad you’re my mommy.” I’m hugged exuberantly a dozen times a day (still at seven).  Sometimes Avonelle will take my face with both hands and giving me kisses – on my cheeks, on my nose, telling me to close my eyes and then she kisses them too.  When she needs reassurance, she recites what I’ve long said to her:  “Mommy will always love me, no matter what.”  Because my child knows that, because she has experienced the truth of how loved she is, deep down in her soul, that love rebounds back not only to me, but to many people in her life. She hugs her friends. If she accidentally stumbles over someone, she turns to check on them. Her teachers tell us she shows many kindnesses to the other children. I don’t know what she will “do” when she grows up, but she is already a force of love in the world, and I have no doubt that she will be a part of healing the hurts around her.

It strikes me that what we have here is a strange inversion of Newton’s third law.  You probably remember this law of physics:  for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. As Newton realized, whenever objects interact with each other, they exert forces upon each other. Likewise, in the human realm, whenever people interact with each other, they influence each other. Only in the case of people, instead of a reaction that is opposite, we tend to see a response that is similar. Hate begets hate. Hurt people hurt people. And as I have seen in my 7-year parenting experiment thus far, loved people love people. That is the amazing opportunity that all of us who are parents, all of us who have relationships with children, have before us:  not only to create a strong foundation for our children, but to send ripples of love throughout society and down generations. To spread love power.

I found myself thinking about this dynamic when I read the story of Keisha Thomas, as shared by a web site called Mighty Girl. In 1996, when Keisha, who is black, was 18 years old, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in her home town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Hundreds of protesters turned out to tell the white supremacist organization that they were not welcome in the progressive college town. At one point during the event, a man sporting a SS tattoo and a t-shirt emblazoned with a Confederate flag ended up on the protesters' side of the fence. A small group began to chase him. He was quickly knocked to the ground and kicked and hit with placard sticks. People began to shout, "Kill the Nazi."

I can understand the anger of the crowd. Especially those like Keisha, African Americans who have lived in fear of groups such as the KKK all their lives – lived in fear, in fact, for generations, with a centuries-long history of death by lynching and all manner of violence, including the police violence that has come into the public spotlight as a continuing problem in recent years. Such a history of trauma warrants a great deal of anger. And being deliberately intimidated by people who don’t see you as a full human being, as worthy of respect… the hurt would run so deep, the instinct for self-preservation and for lashing out would be so strong. I ask myself, what would I do if I was in Keisha’s shoes, witnessing the counter-protestors to the KKK, their own behavior turning ugly?

We know that people who have been hurt often do pass that hurt along to others in turn. Children who grow up being physically abused by their parents, or who witness one parent turn violent on another, are more likely to become perpetrators of domestic violence themselves. There’s more to it than that, of course – forces far beyond the family influence how our children learn to solve problems and relate to others. It’s not just what goes on in families, but in communities and society as a whole that influences these outcomes. Whatever the sources, violence tends to perpetuate itself. The hurt often passes down generations in one way or another. It’s almost like a law of physics.

Sometimes the people that “hurt people” hurt most are themselves. I saw that pattern with so many of the patients on the psychiatric floor during my internship as a hospital chaplain in 2013. There were many kinds of sad stories. I am particularly haunted by the young women admitted who had turned to drugs and alcohol, who engaged in unsafe behavior, who developed personality disorders. So many had been hurt by sexual abuse or assault. It had become difficult for them to value themselves any more than their assailants had. Their attempts to escape from painful memories and feelings through drugs and alcohol could not release them from the past and created additional problems.

Yet there is cause for hope. Though the pattern is common, it is far from inevitable that those who have been hurt will end up visiting similar hurts on others, or getting stuck in a downward spiral of self-harm. Sometimes, in a triumph of the human spirit, just the opposite happens – the hurt person who could pass their hurt along, or slowly self-destruct, instead becomes a force for good.

Such was the case with Patrick Stewart, the Shakespearean actor. You may remember him as Captain Picard on tv’s Star Trek: The Next Generation. “Engage,” he would say from the helm of the Enterprise. “Make it so.”  Stewart’s father had served in World War II, where he experienced the horrors of war. Stewart tells how later, [quote] “In civilian life... [my father] was an angry, unhappy and frustrated man who was not able to control his emotions or his hands. As a child,” Stewart says, “I witnessed his repeated violence against my mother, and the terror and misery he caused was such that, if I felt I could have succeeded, I would have killed him.”

Patrick Stewart grew up in a time and place when everyone looked the other way – neighbors, doctors, law enforcement – even though people knew that his father regularly beat his mother. There’s no guarantee that a young person raised in such a dangerous environment will find their way to healing. “In my adult life,” Stewart wrote, “I have struggled to overcome the bad lessons of my father's behaviour, this corrosive example of male irresponsibility.” Yet ultimately he did not fall into the pattern that had been set for him. He found his own refuge in acting. And over time, Stewart became a passionate advocate for ending violence against women. Though he never had children, it’s a safe bet that he would’ve been a different sort of father figure too. 

I am grateful that my own father made a choice to parent differently than his father. I’m not sure if he had a particular role model for it. When he grew up in rural Iowa in the 1940s and 50s, corporal punishment as a method of disciplining children was culturally pretty “normal.” But my dad made a decision when my brother and I were small that he was not going to spank his children. Later he became a child abuse investigator and a social worker, working to protect vulnerable children. My mother did things differently too. She herself had not had a mother who was capable of actively parenting her. Yet my mother was such a steady presence for me and my brother, pouring so much care and attention onto us. Mom also chose a healing profession. She became a nurse, and later a counselor. These two people illustrate a choice that is also possible – the choice to turn toward love, and to send healing, rather than hurt, down the family line.

They are not the only ones to make this choice. Far from it. A couple summers ago I had a summer of weddings, working with 5 wedding couples in all – and I noticed this same sort of growth over generations. In the course of the premarital counseling and just getting to know the couples, I often learn something of their story – their journey from the family they were born into, to what that they want to create together for their family of choice. The couples assessment and relationship-strengthening program I use actually prompts this sort of discussion, but I find that many couples have already begun the process of sifting in their private conversations. Over and over, I see how the generation I’m working with values the best of what they gained in their family, and wants to carry that on – and how they also recognize, sometimes, like my parents did, practices and ways of being that are not so healthy. Areas in which they aspire to do things differently for the next generation. That’s such a critical part of the spiritual evolution of our species, for family is where we first learn how to be human. Perhaps this is why Mother Teresa has said, "If you want to create world peace, go home and love your family.”

Others play important parts too – friends, and communities like this congregation, and everyone with whom we come in contact, at some level. I’ve met young people in our UU congregations who have received the love and nurture of not only their families, but their church community, during a formative period of their lives. And they are hungry to make a difference. Because loved people are impelled from deep within to love other people. I feel in every fiber of my being that my ability to share love is a direct result of all the love that I have received over my lifetime – and even, in the generations before. The signs of this love may at times seem modest:   nurturing meals cooked by my husband, the quiet listening of a friend, the cuddles I share with my daughter, the sense of companionship felt with others in the sacred space of a Sunday morning sanctuary – even a kind word from a stranger at the grocery store or on the playground. It all adds up.

The cumulative effect of all these droplets of love falling on my life is a torrent swift and sure.  It is a river that carries me even in those moments when I feel I cannot swim. And I do have those moments. The love that has come to me, and that flows through me to others, flows on, to return to the great sea of primordial love that I understand to be our Source. And from that endless ocean will arise new clouds, new rain to end every drought.

When the pain I encounter is larger than my little life, when it seems that the refreshing rain of love in the world has been spent, still the current of love remains strong. For the streams of love from years past pour into the river of today – if I turn around and look back, I can see countless tributaries flowing onward, into this moment. Our human heritage of activists and mystics, of lovers of humanity and lovers of life, has left a legacy of love that can comfort and inspire us at any time. From these roaring rapids of soulforce, the lives that most echo in my being include those of the Unitarian Universalist prophetic sisterhood, Etty Hillesum, Mahatma Gandhi, and Peace Pilgrim. You may have your own list of love luminaries. I know that there are countless others, recognized and unknown, whose loving waters mingle with mine too. The transforming power of love – as we call it in our tradition – becomes a palpable force, one as real as gravity or entropy. Whatever family lines we come from, we all have as part of our human heritage the great spiritual figures whose lives blaze with love. We all, I believe, long to orbit around the great sun of love. 

During my stint as a hospital chaplain in the psychiatric unit, I listened to people’s stories of what in their lives had brought them to this difficult point. I found myself digging deep to stay in touch with my own sources of hope and resilience. I thought often of one of the spiritual figures who moves me, Etty Hillesum. Etty was a remarkable young woman who ministered to those around her in the Nazi work camps. Her challenge and gift was simply to be able to take it all in, the horror of genocide – a systematic form of hatred and violence – and keep tenderly serving the victims, without letting her own spirit become infected with hatred for anyone. She took that bad energy in and cleansed it, holding fast to something pure – a spiritual alchemy. When I read her diaries, it stirred something deep in me. I recognized Etty’s very personal ministering in the Nazi camps as a practice of nonviolence, true principled nonviolence – a practice that was calling on me in that psych. unit of the hospital – that might call on any of us. As Etty demonstrated, the human being can act much like an air purifier that takes contaminants out of the air that we breathe. A human being can be a spiritual purifier, filtering out the hate from our environment, and restoring the pure, clean air of love. This makes healing possible across generations and throughout our social environs. In some toxic situations it helps make survival possible. 

This brings me back to Keisha, the black teenager in Ann Arbor who saw other protesters against a Ku Klux Klan rally turning violent. As people began to shout, "Kill the Nazi," the high school student, fearing that a mob mentality had taken over, decided to act. Keisha threw herself on top of one of the men she had come to protest, protecting him from the blows. Later she explained, "Someone had to step out of the pack and say, 'this isn't right'... I knew what it was like to be hurt. The many times that that happened, I wish someone would have stood up for me... violence is violence – nobody deserves to be hurt, especially not for an idea."

Keisha never heard from the Klan member after that day. But months later, a young man came up to thank her, telling her that the man she had protected was his father. For Keisha, learning that he had a son brought even greater significance to her loving act. As she observed, [quote] "For the most part, people who hurt... they come from hurt. It is a cycle. Let's say they had killed him or hurt him really bad. How does the son feel? Does he carry on the violence?"

I don’t know any more about Keisha than what I have shared with you from Mighty Girl. I don’t know who loved her or mentored her. But it is probably no coincidence that she comes from a people who have known not only centuries of hate and hurt – a people who have every reason to be bitter – but also from a people who have put into practice, perhaps more than any other in our country, the principles of nonviolence – which is to say, love in action. This is the story of nonviolence:  people responding to hurt with love for both themselves and the hurters. It was civil rights leader MLK, Jr. who summed it up, saying:  “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

Now don’t get me wrong. Acting from love does not necessarily require putting yourself in harm’s way to protect or enlighten others – we can’t demand that from anyone, including today’s generation of civil rights leaders. Acting from love can also mean calling people to account for their behavior, as is happening right now within the UUA. Speaking the truth in the hope that others will learn and grow and make better choices – choices more in keeping with their own highest potential. Those of us who have more power in society, like men and white people, straight people and cisgender people and those who are currently able-bodied – we have greater opportunity, at less risk to ourselves, to speak the truth and call us all toward love. As Patrick Stewart is doing on the issue of domestic violence. As many Unitarian and Universalists have done over the last two centuries, advocating for the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage, for equal treatment for GLBT people and for reproductive justice, for the earth and many more issues.

But it’s not just the big heroic acts recorded in the history books that count, like those for which we remember King and Gandhi and such UU luminaries as Theodore Parker and Margaret Fuller. When members of this congregation, today, carry out so many small, seemingly unremarkable, seemingly private acts of kindness and love, you are pushing human spiritual evolution in the direction of love. When you offer a warm welcome to visitors in this church – many of whom have been prompted by some secret hurt to come here – you make healing possible. When you care for children in a way that nurtures them and models love for them, when you reach out to a friend in need – you are on the fulcrum, turning the great lever of love.

It’s in your social action work too, of course. When you share food and caring with the people at Samaritan House (who struggle HIV and other health issues), you are healing the pain in our society and strengthening the web of love. When you protest Energy Transfer Partners for the way they are ramming through the Dakota Access Pipeline – when you march for women, or for science, or for action on climate change… you are sending out ripples of love that protect all of our rivers, surge out over the oceans and circle the globe. When you bring in donations for the South Central Alliance of Churches… or go to the state house in Austin with the Texas UU Justice Ministry… or call our legislators about the bathroom bill or the latest bill affecting immigrants or voting rights – with every step this congregation takes to live into its transcendent values of compassion, equality and justice – you are adding to the great current of love.

Keep it up, and I believe over time we will see that love rebound in our own lives and the common life of this community, just as my love for my daughter has now come back to me in spades. In fact, it has already happened – we witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime event just two short years ago, as the courageous action of UUs here and elsewhere, along with that of many other activists, culminated in the Supreme Court’s ruling that it is love that makes a marriage – that this most basic institution of society is defined not by anatomy or by social roles, but by love.

On the day of the court’s historic ruling that June, my child came home from music camp and shared a song she had learned. "Love is something that you give away, give away, give away, love is something you give away, and then you end up having more!"  How appropriate on that day, I thought. And how true – love is an inexhaustible force, which multiplies when shared. This is why, despite all the millennia of suffering humans have endured thus far – and all the suffering that remains, so much suffering – still, I have great hope.

I have hope for healing, because love persists and remains. Because love is a force of healing that passes down generations and spreads through human communities. Because love too can be powerful, even more powerful than violence and hurt. Wholeness has a tendency to replicate itself too. And since we all have this innate yearning for wholeness, that evolutionary pull toward it – some might say a spiritual pull toward wholeness – if we all do our part, we can help bend the long arc of the universe toward love. May it be so. Or perhaps I should say, in the spirit of Patrick Stewart / Capt. Picard,  “Make it so.”

 

HYMN #131 Love Will Guide Us

 

BENEDICTION
By Richard S. Gilbert, adapted, #198 in Lifting Our Voices

 We are.

 Therefore, we love . . .

 We love.

 Therefore, we are . . .

 May we humble before the wonder

Of what we dare to create.