Worship Script 2
Our Spiritual Ancestors
Worship Script (2 of 4)
By Aisha Hauser and Susan Lawrence, #168 from Lifting Our Voices
We are Unitarian Universalists.
With minds that think,
Hearts that love,
And hands that are ready to serve.
Together we care for our Earth,
And work for friendship and peace in our world.
HYMN #358 Rank By Rank Again We Stand
Suggested amended lyrics by Kendyl Gibbons and Cynthia Landrum for the first verse:
Rank by rank come we once more
From the four winds gathered hither
Loud the hallowed walls implore
Whence we come and how and wither
By Ralph Waldo Emerson #563 in Singing the Living Tradition
A person will worship something - have no doubt about that.
We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts - but it will out.
That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and character.
Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.
Excerpts from the Introduction by Conrad Wright to “Channing, Emerson, Parker: Three Prophets of Religious Liberalism”
Channing’s Baltimore Sermon, Emerson’s Divinity School Address, and Parker’s South Boston Sermon has long been accepted as the three great classic utterances of American Unitarianism.
What do they have in common to account for their recognized standing? In the first place, they all occasioned widespread controversy.
In the second place, all three of these addresses represent turning points in the history of American Unitarianism. Channing took the liberal wing of New England congregationalism, fastened a name to it, and forced it to overcome its reluctance to recognize that it had become, willy-nilly, a separate and distinct Christian body. Emerson cut deep at the traditional philosophical presuppositions of the Unitarianism of his day, so that it was never thereafter possible for Unitarians to return to the position that Christianity is based on the authority of Christ as the unique channel of God’s revelation to humanity. Emerson and Parker alike insisted that the religious impulse is primary and universal and the Christianity is but one of the many expressions of that primary impulse, driving its authority from its congruity with universal truths.
Finally, all three of these addresses were influential far beyond the confines of the religious body that produced them.
Through the work of all three men, therefore, there runs the assertion that we must not be content with inherited religious forms and doctrines, or satisfied with a traditional definition of our powers and potentialities. New light may still break forth, and we are not now what we may yet be.”
HYMN #287 Faith of the Larger Liberty
STORY FOR ALL AGES
“Ancestral Tree” by Greta Anderson
Have you ever thought of our faith as an ancestral tree? It can be awe-inspiring to see the numerous roots and branches that make up our religious family. The "roots" of the tree are the values we hold dear, such as reason, tolerance, and freedom, hope, faith and love.
These roots have brought forth many ancestors, carrying these values out into the world. Though they have passed before us, they are still somehow with the family, kept alive in memories and stories, or the values they passed on to us. This is the trunk, from which the tree gets its strength. It is what unites us, perhaps in name, but also those very stories, memories and values that endure.
Who are the ancestors who have supported this faith? Arius and Origen, Joseph Priestley, John Murray, Hosea Ballou, Olympia Brown, Louisa May Alcott, and Susan B. Anthony. There are other, more recent UUs, too, such as Adlai Stevens, May Sarton, Kurt Vonnegut, and Whitney Young. None of these ancestors asks us to be exactly like them. Rather, the tradition they represent offers us security, inspiration, and a place to start our faith journeys—or, if you will, our flight. You know many of the traditions our ancestors stood strong for: the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice, equity and compassion in human relations; acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations; a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large; the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; and respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
The family tree of Unitarian Universalism was "watered" by various streams of thought and belief. Unitarianism holds that God is one. Universalism holds that everyone is "saved", not just a certain group. These are the two major streams of thought. But there are others. There are eastern and Pantheist traditions. These sources fed the writings of figures such as Emerson and Thoreau. More recently, there are neo-pagan streams that can awaken our senses to the natural world, and atheist streams, which can ground our thinking in rationality. All of our Sources keep the tradition alive and organic——ever growing, ever changing.
The UU community comprises the branches of the family tree, growing and changing to find the light, the multifaceted truth that we all seek.
On these branches are leaves, individual members of congregations. Each leaf is positioned at a unique place, to absorb the sunlight in his/her own way. These leaves give life to the tree even after they have fallen, nourishing the roots of our tradition with the reality of its members' truth-seeking, compassionate, justice-demanding, Nature-conscious faith.
The fruits of this tree are the writing and the music, the poetry, the conversations and the rituals that have developed as expressions of the tradition. The songs that we sing every Sunday, the lighting of a chalice, and the beautiful words we hear. The silence of our meditation. These are all fruits.
The fruits of this tree also include actions, such as the abolition movement or the work of Martha and Waitstill Sharp, who helped hundreds of Jews and other refugees escape Nazi persecution. It is also in the current "Standing on the Side of Love" campaign that is fighting oppression in all its forms, but especially oppression of immigrants and BGLT individuals and couples.
The congregation in which you find yourself is grounded, rooted in values and supported by a history of thoughtful, courageous, and unyielding people. It continues to grow and change, but will always be there to shelter and protect its members. You are the birds in the tree. You have taken in the fruits of the tree. Through music and stories and friendships and conversations and actions, you have absorbed the essence of the UU tradition, been nourished by it and what it has to give.
But the time will come for each of you to take flight. The tree and its fruits cannot tell you in what direction to fly. They can, however, give you hope, courage, sustenance, a place to look out and see the possibilities, and of course, a place to which you may always return home.
“Unitarian Universalist Forebears” by Orlanda Brugnola
May we know some of the spiritual courage of our forebears for whom the religious questions were of such great importance.
May we know some of the generosity of spirit which made it possible for them finally to be heard.
May we know some of the passion with which the message of an accessible truth was greeted.
May we be true to that vision and that 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.
Spiritual Ancestors, by Kat Liu
Like many Unitarian Universalists of color (and many white allies), I get tired of white male dominance within our society and yearn for more diverse representation. Yet I was taken aback one day, while admiring stained glass renderings of some of our spiritual forefathers, when a friend came up next to me and dismissed the images as “old dead white men.” This was a phrase that I had used numerous times myself in response to images of men who meant nothing to me. But in the narthex of that historic Unitarian church, I recognized some (not all) of the men and their importance to our shared faith.
“Old dead white men” suggests that these people have no relevance to us now, especially to those of us who are neither white nor male. But these people have relevance to me. They were integral to shaping Unitarian Universalism into what it is. And since Unitarian UniversalismUUism is part of who I am, these people were integral to shaping me. They are my spiritual ancestors.
Whenever I lead a communal construction of an ancestral altar, I make sure to remind/assure participants that ancestors need not be only those people with whom we’re biologically related. Ancestors can be any (deceased) persons whose lives we recognize have shaped ours. Part of the reason to include spiritual ancestors is practical. Not all of us know who our biological ancestors are. But another reason is to recognize the truth that we are more than just our bodies. Buddhism recognizes that every being is comprised of five “aggregates,” only one of which is physical form; the rest have to do with how we perceive and think. In other words, those beings who contribute to how we perceive and think are every bit as much responsible for who we are as those who contributed to our genetic makeup.
Still, it’s easier to recognize biological ancestors. It’s easier to see how their genes, passed on through generations, created us. If any one of them did not exist then we would not exist. If any one of them way back in time were different, somebody may might still exist in our place who might be similar, but they wouldn’t be us. We know that all our biological ancestors contributed to the making of us, even if they are now so far removed that we might not recognize them.
The ideas that shape who we are come from our spiritual ancestors in the same way that our genes come from our biological ones. One “old dead white man” whose ideas clearly shaped my life is Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson described Hindu theology using Christian terminology. (His essay “The Over-Soul” is a direct translation of Hinduism’s Paramatman, “param(a)” meaning highest and “atman” meaning self or soul.) By doing so, Emerson transformed Unitarianism from anti-trinitarian Christianity into a faith tradition that welcomes Hindus and Buddhists, Pagans and atheists and every other theological bent. Because if God or the Over-Soul is not separate from us individual souls, then it no longer is necessary to “believe in” God. (Neither does it preclude belief.) Rather, what we agree on is the inherently worthwhile nature of humanity. Without Emerson, I would not be a Unitarian Universalist. Many of us would not. His short-comings not withstanding— – and let’s face it, many of our ancestors have short-comings— – Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of my spiritual ancestors.
Emerson was not among the men immortalized in stained glass that day, but William Ellery Channing was. Channing helped create Unitarianism in the United States by breaking off from the more traditional Congregationalists. He both rejected the trinity and asserted that we humans are capable of cultivating goodness, ever increasing our “likeness to God.” (He also said that humanity is a “living family of All Souls,” which is why so many of our congregations bear that name.) While the Transcendentalists eventually decided that liberal unitarian Unitarian Christianity did not go far enough, it was people like Channing who created the spiritual space in which they could arise. Without Channing and his contemporaries, there would be no Emerson and his. If Emerson is like a spiritual grandparent, Channing is like a spiritual great-grandparent.
Following our spiritual family tree back even further we eventually get to the Puritans. While some white Unitarian Universalists may be proud to be able to trace their biological ancestry to the Mayflower, for many of us, it’s hard to recognize these people who committed genocide against the Pequots, hung Quakers and women as witches, and policed sexuality, as our ancestors. How could they have anything in common with our progressive, inclusive community now? Yet I do recognize them. Because a spiritual ancestor isn’t necessarily someone we like or can even see in ourselves. A spiritual ancestor is someone whose ideas helped shape us. And I can see the influence of the Puritans on both Unitarians and Universalists. It is from them that we get our congregationalist governance structure. It is from reaction against their Calvinism that we get our concepts of inherent worth and universal salvation. If they didn’t exist, Unitarian Universalism would not exist.
To recognize our spiritual ancestors is to recognize that we don’t just come from a lineage of blood, but also ideas. It is to recognize that we are, no matter what age, continually re-created and helping to re-create others as we influence each other. It is to honor those we admire and acknowledge our connection even to those we don’t. To recognize our spiritual ancestors is to recognize the interdependent web.
HYMN #102 We the Heirs of Many Ages
by James Luther Adams #166 from Lifting Our Voices
A living tradition is not bequeathed
Through some law of inheritance;
It must be earned, not without dust and heat,
And not without humbling grace.