Worship Script 2
Free and Responsible
Worship Script (2 of 4)
By Erika Hewitt
Many of us were once, too, seeking for something larger than ourselves to which we could belong: a sense of rootedness to hold us as we create meaning together. We do that well here—though not perfectly. In this congregation, we strive not for perfection but for authenticity and connection.
Whether it's your first time in worship with us or your hundredth time, we hope that you’ll find here questions that stretch you, people to befriend you, and liberal religious values that challenge you to join us in loving boldly, living justly, and welcoming radically.
HYMN #389 Gathered Here
Seeking Truth by Orlanda Brugnola
In confusion we seek clarity.
In doubt we seek faith.
In time of questioning, we seek certainities.
May we remember
That in our very nature both exist:
Confusion AND clarity
Doubt AND faith
Questioning AND certainty
And that without the first
We would fail to recognize the second.
May we learn to accept
That are seeking
Is itself a part of the truth.
It Matters What We Believe, by Sophia Lyon Fahs
Some beliefs are like walled gardens. They encourage exclusiveness, and the feeling of being especially privileged.
Other beliefs are expansive and lead the way into wider and deeper sympathies.
Some beliefs are like shadows, clouding children's days and fears of unknown calamities.
Other beliefs are like sunshine, blessing children with the warmth of happiness.
Some beliefs are divisive, separating saved from unsaved, friends from enemies.
Other beliefs are bonds in a world community, where sincere differences beautify the pattern.
Some beliefs are like blinders, shutting off the power to choose one's own direction.
Other beliefs are like gateways opening wide vistas for exploration.
Some beliefs weaken a person's selfhood. They blight the growth of resourcefulness.
Other beliefs nurture self-confidence and enrich the feeling of personal worth.
Some beliefs are rigid, like the body of death, impotent in a changing world.
Other beliefs are pliable, like the young sapling, ever growing with the upward thrust of life.
HYMN #148 Let Freedom Span Both East and West
STORY FOR ALL AGES
Cleaning Out Our Clothes Closets, by Martha Dallas
Who here has to go through their clothes sometimes, say every year or so? Maybe it’s something your parents make you do…. [ask for a show of hands]
So I’m wondering: How do you decide what to keep and what to get rid of? [Take responses. If needed, suggest ones such as: Does it fit? Is it all worn out and ratty? Perhaps you never wore it anyway.]
Tell me about what’s left in the closet when you’re done: are there older things? Newer things? Both? [Suggest that there is usually a mix of both.]
Switching gears: does anyone remember how long ago this church started? [Remind them the age of the congregation. Ours was 200 years!]
Think about what those people had in their closets. Were their clothes similar to ours? Different? [Suggest examples of things that were surely similar to what we still wear, eg. mittens in winter.]
Those people came here on Sundays. They heard sermons, they prayed prayers and read readings. They sang hymns and taught children what they felt was important.
The things they believed, their religious ideas—are kind of like the clothes in our closets. Like with our clothes, we need to look at our beliefs every so often and ask ourselves if they still fit. Perhaps they’re too worn out to wear in public any more. Maybe there’s something we borrowed from someone else that we never really used anyway. We want our beliefs to reflect who we really are on the inside, so we keep the ones that still fit, still work, and still have meaning for us when we wear them. Like our clothes, we want our beliefs to change a little with us as we grow and change, so that they always remain true to who we are.
Giver of Being and Freedom, by George Kimmich Beach
Giver of being and freedom, thou who touches our lives in unforeseen ways, who unsettles our ease and upsets our self-satisfactions:
We wait in these moments of stillness to let the hidden processes of healing and growth do their silent work within us, and to let the quiet work of reconciliation be renewed among us.
Because we know that the ultimate issues of life—healing and growth, reconciliation and renewal—cannot be forced, neither by excess of activity nor by tumult of words, we seek out this stillness. We seek the quiet—the resting place—of our restless hearts.
Because we live with mystery, we trust that which is deeper than we know—which touches our hearts—which steadies us and rekindles our spirits—which, finally, in faith, may be named the love that has laid hold upon us, and will not let us go.
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.
Free and Responsible, by Victoria Weinstein, parish minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lynn,
I would venture to say that freedom is the most cherished religious value for Unitarian Universalists. We cannot abide the suffocation we feel in our souls when someone else dictates to us how to believe, what to think about the important questions, or even where to look to find the answers.
What interests me, though, is how UUs sometimes mistake freedom of religion for freedom from religion. They come in the door all sweaty and frantic having fled an oppressive religious past and they collapse into our pews and say “Phew, that’s over. I reject this and this and this and that and that other thing, and the whole scene I just came from. It all makes my skin crawl and thank Buddha or Krishna I’m here with the Unitarians where I don’t have to believe anything!”
But that’s not true. It’s not accurate and it’s no way to build a religious community or an individual. Rejecting religious doctrines that offend our spirit is just the beginning, just Part One of the faith journey.
Part Two is seeking understanding of those doctrines and our relationship to them so that we can heal, let it go, and move on with a peaceful heart. We explore religious language and ideas that previously upset or wounded us, we have the freedom to learn about and interpret them, and we either reclaim them or let them go.
We grow. We mature. We find what we can affirm, what we do believe—that’s Part Three.
We’re engaging in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, which means we’re taking responsibility for our relationship with religious ideas, not expecting to be spared any mention of them. Sometimes folks need to be reminded that Unitarian Universalism, for all its freedom, is a religious tradition. It amazes me how many otherwise rational people expect UU congregations to be religion-free zones. They are having none of that. They want intellectual stimulation and a good “talk”—some congregations won’t even call it a sermon—but they break out in hives over anything that reminds them of that “traditional churchy stuff.”
I understand. I was once very angry at religion. I grew up the daughter of a very angry Jewish father who bore the profound wound of anti-Semitism. We never spoke of all the Weinstein aunts and uncles and cousins who had been murdered by Hitler. But I knew they had been, and I was victimized myself by anti-Semites in my own peer group.
On the school bus I was called a Christ-killer and other names too hateful to repeat here, and I was beaten up on the playground in elementary school. I had a swastika drawn on my locker twice in high school.
Even some teachers sneered at my name and asked me “What are you doing here today?” on Rosh Hashanah.
My father’s family disapproved of my mother because she wasn’t Jewish, and my mother’s family returned the favor by disapproving of my father because he was a Jew. That’s why they were married in the Unitarian church.
We went to Unitarian Universalist church on Sundays sporadically throughout my childhood and I was dedicated at the UU congregation in Westport, Connecticut, at pre-school age. But, I kid you not, I had no idea that Unitarian Universalism was a religion.
Why would we belong to a religion? In my household, religion was either divisive or derisive. Neither of my parents believed in God and my grandparent’s faith in Jesus Christ was regarded by all of us as a sentimental, superstitious hangover from the old country, not something intellectual people would go for.
Therefore, my free and responsible search for truth and meaning didn’t concern itself with religion at all at first, but with philosophy, literature and the arts. I am convinced it could have gone on that way for the rest of my life with no deficit to my moral or ethical development, but I had this wound, you see.
I hated religion and religious people—I thought it all incredibly stupid and harmful—and for the longest time I tightened up whenever anyone said God. If they said Jesus or Christ, my visceral reaction was even worse. Anyone who said or sang about Jesus made me feel physically threatened. And I didn’t want to live the rest of my life like that. I wanted to be healed of this burning hostility I had about religion. My father had died when I was in high school and I had too much pain. I think I was just desperate to unload some of it.
When I look back on the serious religious search that I began in college, it seems to me now that I started out the way someone newly diagnosed with cancer sets out researching everything they can about that cancer so they can live with it, and survive it. I started with the word “God” itself, determined to understand this damned thing, and felt just so angry, so much anger. I was enraged for a good three or four years about the damaging God of Western culture, the God Rev. Carlton Pearson calls “the monster God.” I cannot tell you how angry I was, and how I took out that anger on my boyfriend at the time, who represented the patriarchy to me. We were together six years; that’s a strong man.
But I kept fighting, and seeking to understand, to claim something of the God-idea for my own self, for my own heart, for my own life. I was wrestling a blessing out of this thing. There was no curriculum for this; I made it up as I went along. I took religion classes in school and hated them. I hated world religions and I hated Old Testament. Got an F in it, that’s how much I hated it. From what I could see, organized religion was just this long, violent nightmare pitting nations against nations, culture against culture, brothers against sisters. All of them.
And then maybe five or six years into my search for truth and meaning, a horrible thing happened. Something really humiliating and confusing that felt like a betrayal of myself and my people: Jesus got hold of me. Like when someone’s enraged and ranting and you just come up behind them and wrap your arms around them and just hold them—that’s how Jesus got hold of me.
After years of struggling with the Bible and making no sense of it, it just opened up for me and everything went Technicolor like when Dorothy gets over the rainbow, and I had found my religion. I found my healing. I found my faith. It came in a trickle and then a rush. And after I became a Christian, all the other religions looked so much more beautiful to me, too. I had worked for understanding and I received healing.
I kept my religious beliefs a secret for a long time, because in my experience Unitarian Universalists had such bitter disdain for Christians I didn’t want to be considered a heretic by the heretics! How marginalized can you get? My experience with Unitarian Universalists was that everyone was happy to have you search, but you weren’t actually supposed to get anywhere specific.
Not a year goes by that I am not asked by half a dozen UUs why I am still here as a Christian—and not nicely, either. I say, “This is where my free and responsible search for truth and meaning has led me. If it upsets you, imagine how I felt!” I well remember how disgusted I once was by the Christian faith. It is because I remember this so well that I am very careful not to speak of it too often, not to bring Christian references into worship more than now and then, and not to bring an overtly Christian perspective or language to my ministry. This is, as you can imagine, intensely challenging at times. Sometimes it has been painful, holding back a tremendous amount of Passion. But I do it because I respect the fact that many of us are still hurting from the abuses of a conservative Christian past or offended by the vile behaviors of so-called Christians in public life in America. I share that offense, believe me.
That said, I do wish that UUs were less Christian-phobic as a denomination, more willing to see and accept that there are millions of liberal, progressive Christians in the world whose values we share and with whom we could build productive, working relationships. I wish we would more often remember that God is not a Christian concept but a universal one used by almost all religious traditions (with a wide variety of definitions!) and that the Bible is a Jewish document as well as a Christian one.
For me, a free and responsible search for truth and meaning has to have a touch of almost desperate longing to it, or else we risk being dabblers, dilettantes, tourists, stopping by one philosophy after another and taking what we like (what’s pretty and appealing) and avoiding the inevitably troubling or demanding aspects of them. Emerson said that what we are worshiping we are becoming. I take that as a warning. There’s a lot of garbage out there that the world wants us to worship. We’re free to discover our own sources of reverence, but we’re called to be responsible about it.
So where are we digging our wells of truth and meaning? Is it on good ground? Can we reach something sustaining and inspiring and challenging by digging more deeply there? That’s what we want in the work of spiritual growth, whether our inspiration comes from the brilliance of the sciences or the beauty of the arts or the mysteries and rituals of religion or the intensity of human relationships and the struggle for justice. All of those sources have their glory, and all of them have their danger and their fundamentalisms. Wherever we dig for meaning, what we want is something worthy to follow, something that is both fire and water to our souls.
Friedrich Nietzsche said this, and I believe him:
“The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is…that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”
HYMN #391 Voice Still and Small
Labyrinth, by Leslie Takahashi Morris
Walk the maze
Within your heart: guide your steps into its questions curves.
This labyrinth is a puzzle leading you deeper into your own truths.
Listen in the twists and turns.
Listen in the openness within all searching.
Listen: A wisdom within you calls to a wisdom beyond you and in that dialogue lies peace.