Worship Script 4
When Faced with Evil
Worship Script (4 of 4)
By Martin Luther King jr.
The question is not whether we will be extremists,
but what kind of extremist will we be.
Will we be extremists for hate or for love?
Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice
or for the extension of justice?
HYMN #360 Here We Have Gathered
By Adrienne Rich
My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those who, age after age,
perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.
Excerpts from Memories, Dreams, and Reflection by Carl Jung
Aside from general human inadequacy, a good deal of the blame for this rests with education, which promulgates the old generalizations and says nothing about the secrets of private experience. Thus, every effort is made to teach idealistic beliefs or conduct which people know in their hearts they can never live up to and such ideals are preached by officials who know that they themselves have never lived up to these high standards and never will. What is more, nobody ever questions the value of this kind of teaching.
Therefore the individual who wishes to have an answer to the problem of evil, as it is posed today, has need, first and foremost of self-knowledge, that is, the utmost possible knowledge of his own wholeness. He must know relentlessly how much good he can do, and what crimes he is capable of, and must beware of regarding the one as real and the other as illusion. Both are elements within his nature, and both are bound to come to light in him, should he wish — as he ought — to live without self deception or self-delusion.
HYMN #119 Once to Every Soul and Nation
STORY FOR ALL AGES
Enemies, by Christopher Buice, in "A Bucketful of Dreams: Contemporary Parables for All Ages"
Once there was a little girl who was queen of an island. One day an advisor said to her, “Your majesty, the people on this island are good, but we must beware of the people on the next island for they are our enemies.”
“Our enemies?” responded the queen, “How terrible!”
“Yes, it is terrible,” said the advisor, “for our little island will never be safe while we have enemies. We must find a way to get rid of our enemies!”
“You are quite right,” said the queen. “Do you have any ideas?”
“I do indeed,” said the advisor. “We can take our army, put it on a ship, sail to the other island, and then our army can march on shore and destroy the enemy.”
The queen was not so sure this was a good idea. “Thank you for sharing your ideas,” said the queen, “but I need some more time to think about it all. Can you come back tomorrow?”
“Yes, your majesty,” said the advisor, and he bowed and left the room.
The next day, when the advisor returned to talk to the queen, he was shocked to find her having tea with the queen of the next island. The advisor turned red with anger.
“How can you sit there and drink tea with that person!” he shouted. “She is our enemy! We must get rid of our enemies!”
The queen looked at her advisor with eyes that were calm and steady.
“You have been a good advisor,” she said, “and you were right, we have to get rid of our enemies. You would have me destroy my enemies by conquering them with an army. But the best way to get rid of your enemies is to make them your friends.”
Struggle, from Moorings: Moments of Meditation and Prayer by Orlanda Brugnola
We came here
To be with those who struggle
We came here
To listen to each other
We came here
To learn from each other
We came here
To be strengthened in resolve
We came here
To raise our voices for justice
We came here
To consecrate ourselves once more
And now we gather again
In the mighty spirit of truth
We gather again
In the shining spirit of hope
We gather again
In the most powerful spirit of love
We gather again
We gather again.
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.
When Faced With Evil by Erik Wikstrom
This past July, during the Question & Answer service, someone asked, “How do you reconcile Universal Salvation with Timothy McVeigh?” This question came to the fore again this week—how do we reconcile our Unitarian Universalist optimism, our belief in the “inherent worth and dignity of every person,” our theological presumption that “ no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should,” how do we reconcile these things with the events that took place in New York City and Washington DC and rural Pennsylvania last Tuesday? How do we make sense of the tragedy that’s unfolded and is unfolding still? Upwards of 5,000 people are missing and presumed dead, countless others are wounded in body and spirit; innocent men, women, and children—whose only crime was being on the wrong plane at the wrong time—were used as weapons. It has long been a tactic of terrorists to pack their bombs with bits of glass, broken screws, rusty nails in order to increase the devastation; these terrorists packed their bombs with people. What are we to do when faced with such evil?
To prepare for this morning I looked in the back of our hymnal, where the readings and hymns are organized by theme, but there is no listing for “Tragedy;” there is no listing for “Evil.” It seems that our hymnal is void of resources to which we can turn for support in a time like this. Or is it? The reading we just heard—those beautifully evocative words from Adrienne Rich—is #463. And that haunting song with which we began our service and the one we’ll sing in a moment are both there too. I will to come back to these responses, but first I want to dwell a bit longer with the questions.
We Unitarian Universalists don’t talk about evil very much. Maybe that’s because our Universalist ancestors believed so strongly in the doctrine of Universal Salvation—that all souls would be reunited with an ultimately loving God and that none are destined for an eternity in hell. If you take away hell, perhaps, the idea of “evil” doesn’t make quite so much sense because there’s nowhere to “put” it. Or maybe it’s because our Unitarian ancestors were so convinced of humanity’s ability to climb onward and upward, to rise above our basest instincts. (An old joke has it that Universalists believed God is too loving to damn humanity and that Unitarians believed humanity is too good to be damned.) Perhaps it’s that our Unitarian Universalist rationalism has been so infused with the psychological mythologies of our day that turn “demons” into “conditions,” that “evil” has become “maladjustment” and “bad choices.”
By whatever route, it seems that our religious tradition has largely lost the language to deal with something like what happened this week: because someone decided that the United States was the Enemy and that there are no innocents here, because someone decided that their own lives—and the lives of all those people on the planes and in and around those buildings—were expendable, the Pentagon lies in rubble, the Twin Towers are no more, and a planeload of heroes lie dead in a Pennsylvania field.
How are we to make sense of that?
One response is to name the act and the persons who committed it “evil” and, so, separate ourselves from them. Hopefully we won’t take the step of expanding this demonization, you and I are not likely to start saying that all Muslims—or all Afghanis—are at fault and should pay for this. We’re not likely to generalize in that way—although I’ve already heard some of us speak words which come disturbingly close—but even if we’re specific in our demonization, targeting only the particular people who are, in fact, responsible, we are still, I believe, making a mistake.
For if they are evil and we are not, if that’s how we see things, then we are committing the same kind of error which led to this tragedy. That’s the problem of evil. Not so much that it exists—in that it’s really just a fact of life, or a force of nature. The problem of evil, as I see it, is that we are so readily tempted to imagine that it’s out there, separated from us over here; that it belongs to them and not us. And that, I believe, is ultimately the root and the design of evil—to make us categorize the world into us and them rather than recognizing our common kinship.
Stay with me here for a moment. The core of our Unitarian Universalist faith—and the core of all the religious faiths that I know of—points to the truth that we are part of a family that includes all of creation. You, and I, and caterpillars, and stars, and even anti-American terrorists are, in truth, part of one family, children of one divine reality. We call it “the interdependent web of existence.” Martin Luther King, Jr. called it “an inescapable network of mutuality.” Theists call it “the family of God.” Whatever we call it, and we do have lots of names, the truth remains that our faith teaches that what is real is our connectedness.
So I believe that a working definition of “evil” could be “whatever distracts us from our essential relatedness.” In other words, whatever convinces you that I am not your brother; whatever gets me to think of you as anything less than my kin—that thing is evil. So even this distinction of “good” and “evil” can be seen as one of evil’s most pernicious tools, for it tempts us to think of the evil and the good as separate from one another.
The eminent Swiss psychologist Carl Jung once wrote,
“The individual who wishes to have an answer to the problem of evil has need, first and foremost, of self-knowledge, that is, in the utmost possible knowledge of his own wholeness. He must know relentlessly how much good he can do, and what crimes he is capable of, and must beware of regarding the one as real and the other as illusion. Both are elements within his nature, and both are bound to come to light in him, should he wish—as he ought—to live without self-deception or self-delusion.”
In his book Peace Is Every Step, the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and poet, writes about receiving a letter about a twelve-year-old girl, a refugee, whose boat was attacked by sea pirates. The pirates raped the girl, and she threw herself into the ocean and drowned. He writes, “When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. . . . [And if] you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that.” From out of his deep meditation, Nhat Hanh wrote a poem, “Call Me By My True Names”
“. . . I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river, and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond, and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence, feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks, and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate, and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
. . .
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life. My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up, and so the door of my heart can be left open, the door of compassion.”
This is the religious response to evil, not setting it apart and intensifying the illusion of separation but recognizing, as Jung said, both how much good we, ourselves, can do and what crimes we, ourselves, are capable of; recognizing that both are part of each of us, that both are found in me. As Jesus said, “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.”
Oh, it is easy to get angry at them, whether them is those who are responsible for the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, or those who are responsible for the bloodshed and the anguish in Israel and Palestine, in Northern Ireland, in Serbia. They do such horrible, such horrendous things and we want retribution, we want revenge, we want someone to pay. Which is just what they said before the stones were hurled, and the bombs set off, and the planes hijacked. This cannot be our response to evil, because this is just what evil wants.
Today I say to you, with all the conviction in my soul, that we must take the harder route—opening our hearts rather than closing them, looking with compassion not only on those who are suffering because of the carnage of Tuesday but also on those who caused the suffering. This is how “Universal Salvation” and “Timothy McVeigh” are reconciled because, in truth, such reconciliation is our only hope. It is not easy, but unless we respond to violence with peace, to hatred with love, to fear with faith, the cycle will only continue. Gandhi is remembered as having said, “‘an eye for an eye’ will leave the whole world blind.” “An eye for an eye” will leave the whole world blind.
Far from having nothing to say about evil, our Unitarian Universalist faith tells us that the face of evil is the face of alienation, of separation, of us and them. And our Unitarian Universalist faith tells us that the only response to a tragedy such as this is to look through the eyes of what is best within ourselves, opening the door of compassion and remembering our place in our common family.
In the days, weeks, months and years ahead, our resolve will be tested. As much as I wish I were wrong, Tuesday’s tragedies will not be the last blows struck against us. We will be tempted to enter into a battle we cannot win, for the battle itself is the enemy. But there is another choice. We can say “no” to death, and “yes” to life over and over and over again, no matter how hard it becomes. We can refuse to let go of our faith in the essential goodness of humanity, even in the light of how horrendously evil our acts can be; we can refuse to settle for the simplistic solution of “an eye for an eye,” even when it’s our own eye that has been shattered; we can refuse to replace the love in our hearts with hate, even when we ourselves suffer indescribable anguish. As I wrote in my column in yesterday’s paper, when faced with evil the only response we can make is that we will continue to Live and will continue to Love. Let this be what our children hear. Let this be what our neighbors hear. Let this be what our world hears.
HYMN #168 One More Step
By Aleksander Solzhenitsyn
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?