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A worship service for four voices by Mike Mallory Presented at the Evergreen Unitarian Universalist Fellowship On 5/2/10
Individual Candle Lighting ♥ Music for Gathering – Susan Jim – Native American Flute http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5X5A2NTyBjQ Donna We speak of the interdependent web of existence. Marilyn Yet we rarely hear of the spider that spins that web.
Mike Ts’its’tsi’nako, Thought-Woman, is sitting in her room and whatever she thinks about appears. She thought of her sister’s, Nau’ts’ity’i and I’tcts’ity’i, and together they created the Universe this world and the four worlds below. Thought-Woman, the spider, named things and as she named them they appeared. She is sitting in her room thinking of a worship service we are presenting the worship service she is thinking. Barbara This incantation arises out of the beliefs of the Laguna people of West-Central New Mexico. Prelude – Jim Barbara Please join us in reading the Declaration contained in the order of service. All Love is the spirit of this fellowship And service is its law. This is our great covenant: To dwell together in peace, To seek truth in love, And to help one another. 2
Mike This morning we are going to look at beliefs. They are ubiquitous, powerful and fallible. Donna Every decision we make is nested in a tangle of beliefs. Barbara Every belief is suspended in an interdependent web of other beliefs. Marilyn We are surrounded by beliefs: our own and those of others. But, what do we mean by the word “belief?” Mike Let me offer a pragmatic working definition of “belief.” Barbara First, try to imagine yourself back in 4th grade geography class. Remember those Plaster of Paris topographical maps? Mike A “belief” may be thought of as an interlocking section of a map. A map of your reality. Donna Interlocking in the sense that one belief fits with others so that the overall map amounts to a “world-view.” Mike Beliefs or map features become confirmed or rejected depending on how well they account for your personal experience of reality. Donna Beliefs provide a sense of coherence and consistency to our experience. Marilyn In this view, “beliefs” are accepted descriptions of reality. Barbara Extending the mapping metaphor, beliefs constitute a flat description of reality. Donna But our reality also contains content that is value or emotionally laden. Think of these elements as adding topography to the map.
Marilyn Perhaps those things you find attractive rise like a hill or mountain. Barbara Meaning may be thought of as the infrastructure: roads, utilities or shipping lanes that connect the disparate areas of reality. Mike Before we get into the plate-tectonics of differing beliefs, let’s just say that beliefs are descriptions or models of reality. And, the beliefs we adopt inform our view of the world. Beliefs co-create our reality. When Ts’its’tsi’nako thinks of things they appear. Donna There will be three readings this morning from the series “This I Believe” currently produced by NPR. Barbara The first reading from the series was writing by Chameli Waiba from a rural village in Nepal. She was a child bride at 15 and was unable to attend school before her marriage. She went to school as an adult and learned to read when she was twentyone years and now works for social and environmental causes, including miro-finance. Donna (audio at http://www.publicradioexchange.com/pieces/35858-this-i-believechameli-waiba ) I believe in the alphabet, because it has the power to change life. I realized the power concealed in the alphabet on the very first day I joined the adult literacy class. For the first time, I was introduced to letters that stood for my name. In discovering the Nepali alphabet, I discovered I was Cha-me-li and not Cha-mi-li, as everyone used to call me. It felt like magic. A little loop of “e” for “i” changed my name! If three letters could change my name, how much would I be able to transform my life if I understood all the letters? Before learning how to write, my life was always stagnant. I had the pain of child marriage, my husband did not support me, abject poverty was my way of life, and I didn’t have any skill or courage to do anything. But I saw that the number of people learning to read and write was growing—and their lives were improving. I then realized it was neither wealth nor beauty that I lacked, but letters. As my new knowledge of words boosted my confidence and courage, I made a resolution: my sisters and brothers should be given education.
The village school was on the other side of the river and children would be cut off from going to school during monsoon season. I wanted to erect a bridge over the river. In the beginning the villagers did not help. Some even mocked the idea. But finally we got support, materials were collected, volunteer laborers were available, and the bridge was finally constructed. Now I cannot express my satisfaction seeing children running to school over that bridge. It is a bridge of iron, a bridge of letters, a bridge of community. I am now heading five women’s micro-saving groups. Ten or 20 rupees that used to be spent buying petty cosmetic items have been collected into a fund of 300,000 rupees. We want to run permanent literacy classes for women and open a library. All this is the result of my knowing the alphabet, even though I learned it late. Letters have immense power. They have magic. The greatest thing in the world is the alphabet. That is my belief. Welcome and Announcements (By a Board Member – The announcements to included the following :) Our minister is not in the pulpit this morning. Instead, someone apparently gave Mike Mallory the go-ahead to produce an “alternative service”. Please remember that the views expressed in this service do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Evergreen Fellowship, its Board of Trustees, Evergreen members, the other readers and tomorrow may not even express the views of Mike Mallory. Call to Worship and Chalice Lighting Mike The call to worship is from the Sufi poet Rumi – (Marilyn, Barbara and Donna light chalice) Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I'll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase 'each other' doesn't make sense any more. Chalice Response Rise up, O flame, by thy light glowing, show to us beauty, vision and joy.
Chapter 2: The Power of Beliefs Barbara In this post 9/11 world no one can doubt the power of beliefs. Mike Beliefs have the ability to drag martyrdom and other self-destructive acts into the realm of the reasonable. Donna Beliefs have power: the power to comfort us in times of adversity, Barbara The power to provoke fear, contempt or hate toward entire groups, classes or races of people, Donna Beliefs have the power to alter the course of our lives as we seek situations compatible with our beliefs and avoid others. Marilyn The next reading from “This I believe” is from Penn Jillette the talkative half of the magic act Penn and Teller. (audio at http://www.publicradioexchange.com/pieces/10799-this-i-believe-pennjillette ) Barbara I believe that there is no God. I’m beyond atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy. But, this “This I Believe” thing seems to demand something more personal, some leap of faith that helps one see life’s big picture, some rules to live by. So, I’m saying, “This I believe: I believe there is no God.” Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I’m not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it’s everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I’m raising now is enough that I don’t need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day. Believing there’s no God means I can’t really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That’s good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around. Without God, we can agree on reality, and I can keep learning where I’m wrong. We can all keep adjusting, so we can really communicate. So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that’s always fun. It means I’m learning something. 6
Believing there is no God means the suffering I’ve seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn’t caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn’t bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future. Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-O and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have. Chapter 3: The formation of beliefs Mike There is this naïve image that somewhere around the time we are sophomores in college we sit down and reason through available beliefs, finally settling on the most rational options. Barbara Rather, we are handed, in a process called “learning,” complex interrelated clusters of beliefs known as “worldviews” by our parents or other authority figures in our childhood. Donna It may be more accurate to say that we discover, rather than choose our beliefs. Marilyn Let us provide an example. Donna Mike Mallory believes he is an animist and we will recount the story, which led to this realization. Marilyn One day several years ago Mike began to wonder if he held any religious belief. He assembled a list of traditional beliefs and went through them one by one. Donna At each entry he would ask himself – Mike Do I believe this? Barbara He held up Christianity. 7
Donna He does not believe in Christianity. Barbara He held up Judaism and Islam. Donna He does not have these beliefs. He does not believe in any God. Barbara He held up Buddhism. Donna He does not believe in Reincarnation or any afterlife for that matter. Marilyn He does not believe in Karma. He thinks keeping score is generally a bad idea, whether in life, the Middle East or a marriage. Barbara He held up Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Shinto, Taoism, Paganism, Pantheism and Panentheism. Donna No, No and No again. Marilyn The first religious belief to develop was animism. This is generally regarded as the belief that inanimate objects have souls. Donna Mike doesn’t believe in souls, so he tossed out the last religious belief and figured that was that. Marilyn But, almost as soon as he had let go of this last belief, it began to tug on him. So he picked it up again. Barbara Holding this belief up to his heart and letting it sit there for a minute something happened. Donna Mike Mallory realized that in the tradition of the indigenous religions of Africa, North America and Japan, he was an animist.
Mike Once formed, beliefs create their own gravity. Marilyn As we go through life, our adopted worldviews attract compatible beliefs, becoming heavier and more difficult to navigate. Donna “Worldviews” sink their roots into every aspect of the human psyche. Barbara A well-developed “worldview” takes on the characteristics of an “identity” to the holder of those beliefs. Mike We are told that the map is not the territory, but when it comes to beliefs it is easy to become confused. Marilyn The more deeply a belief becomes lodged in our identity, the more difficult it is to question. Offertory Donna
Please join me in the unison response to the offertory: This is a Fellowship of ourselves, Its energy and resources are our energy and resources, Its wealth is what we share, When we contribute to the life of this community We affirm our lives within it. Jim Anderson plays “Hallelujah” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xR0DKOGco_o Barbara John Fountain is a professor of journalism at the University of Illinois and the author of “True Vine: A Young Black Man’s Journey of Faith, Hope, and Clarity." This reading is entitled “The God Who Embraced Me When Daddy Disappeared.” (audio at http://www.publicradioexchange.com/pieces/10813-this-i-believe-johnfountain )
Marilyn I believe in God. Not that cosmic, intangible spirit-in-the-sky that Mama told me as a little boy “always was and always will be.” But the God who embraced me when Daddy disappeared from our lives — from my life at age four — the night police led him away from our front door, down the stairs in handcuffs. The God who warmed me when we could see our breath inside our freezing apartment, where the gas was disconnected in the dead of another wind-whipped Chicago winter, and there was no food, little hope and no hot water. The God who claimed me when I felt like “no-man’s son,” amid the absence of any man to wrap his arms around me and tell me, “everything’s going to be okay,” to speak proudly of me, to call me son. I believe in God, God the Father, embodied in his Son Jesus Christ. The God who allowed me to feel His presence — whether by the warmth that filled my belly like hot chocolate on a cold afternoon, or that voice, whenever I found myself in the tempest of life’s storms, telling me that I was something, that I was His, and that even amid the desertion of the man who gave me his name and DNA and little else, I might find in Him sustenance. I believe in God, the God who I have come to know as father, as Abba — Daddy. I always envied boys I saw walking hand-in-hand with their fathers . As a boy, I used to sit on the front porch watching the cars roll by, imagining that one day one would park and the man getting out would be my daddy. But it never happened. When I was 18, I could find no tears that Alabama winter’s evening in January 1979 as I stood finally — face to face — with my father lying cold in a casket, his eyes sealed, his heart no longer beating, his breath forever stilled. Killed in a car accident, he died drunk, leaving me hobbled by the sorrow of years of fatherlessness. It wasn’t until many years later, standing over my father’s grave for a long overdue conversation, that my tears flowed. I told him about the man I had become. I told him about how much I wished he had been in my life. And I realized fully that in his absence, I had found another. Or that He — God, the Father, God, my Father — had found me. Chapter 4: Fallibility of Beliefs Mike The good news is that our beliefs provide us with a map of reality. The bad news is that the map is distorted, inaccurate and fallible.
Marilyn We are hindered by numerous Cognitive biases (a more thorough list http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases ) , which include: The bandwidth effect. Barbara This is the tendency to believe things because many other people believe the same thing. Marilyn Confirmation bias Barbara The tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions Marilyn Impact bias Donna The tendency for people to overestimate the length or the intensity of the impact of future feeling states Marilyn Negativity bias Barbara The phenomenon by which humans pay more attention to and give more weight to negative than positive experiences Mike And for those of you thinking that these tendencies do not apply to you, we have Marilyn The bias blind spot Donna Which is the tendency not to compensate for one's own cognitive biases Mike Please rise as you are willing and able to join me in signing Hymn Number 402 - “From You I Receive”
Chapter 5: Beliefs in a pluralistic community Barbara Here we are. Donna Here we are all together. Marilyn Yet separated by differing realities Donna Now is the time in our service for the sharing of the emotional topography of our realities by expressing those joys and sorrows which are with us today. If you are called to share this morning, please line up on either side of the sanctuary and I will light a candle for you. When sharing, please tell us your name and speak directly into the microphone. Joys and Sorrows Donna I light one more candle representing the unexpressed joys and sorrows with us this morning. Mike Let us enter a time of contemplation. I invite you during a time of silence to consider a belief that sustains you in times of struggle. Meditation Time (One minute of silence followed by a Gong) Chapter 5: Beliefs in a pluralistic community (con’t) Donna Mike and Dennis are going to present Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”. Barbara The song is considered by some to be Marley’s seminal work. The lyrics are derived from a speech by Pan-Africanist, Marcus Garvey. Marilyn Music is a powerful way to share beliefs. 12
(Mike and Dennis present Redemption Song) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yXRGdZdonM Lyrics
Old pirates, yes, they rob I; Sold I to the merchant ships, Minutes after they took I From the bottomless pit. But my hand was made strong By the 'and of the Almighty. We forward in this generation Triumphantly. Won't you help to sing These songs of freedom? 'Cause all I ever have: Redemption songs; Redemption songs. Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds. Have no fear for atomic energy, 'Cause none of them can stop the time. How long shall they kill our prophets, While we stand aside and look? Ooh! Some say it's just a part of it: We've got to fulfill de book. Won't you help to sing These songs of freedom? 'Cause all I ever have: Redemption songs; Redemption songs.
Barbara Emotional topography is only one aspect of our reality. Marilyn Values, meaning and beliefs are also essential features of our experience. Donna In order to fully understand one another it is necessary to engage all of the features of our experience, including: emotions, values, meaning and beliefs.
Marilyn Here at Evergreen, “Joys and Sorrows” offers a forum for emotional content. Covenant Circles invite sharing on a variety of levels. Big Questions and Food for Thought, two of the adult programs in our program guide, encourage expression of our beliefs and values. Barbara Openness to others invites our participation in opportunities to express the full range of our being. Mike The sharing of differing beliefs can create tension. A different belief is often felt as a threat. Donna A differing belief can appear as a challenge to your own understanding of reality. Marilyn The initial reaction to a differing belief is often an attempt to correct the other person’s “mistake”. Mike A community such as ours, which encourages diversity, requires an alternate response. Barbara We can choose to hear the beliefs expressed by others as individual understandings limited to his or her experience rather than a normative claim that others ought to similarly believe. Donna Of course, when disclosing our beliefs, it is also important to express those beliefs as part of our individual understanding and let go of the expectation that others should believe as we do. Marilyn We are a community of believers and our differences should encourage, not discourage our willingness to clearly share our beliefs with each other. A Testament to Animism – Mike Mallory I believe in Animism, that primordial, proto-religious recognition that all of existence shares a sacred kinship. Mitakuye Oyasin: All My Relations. Animism is often described as a belief that everything has a soul. My understanding of the term “soul” is so narrow as to almost disappear, yet a delicate filament remains and it is enough to support my belief. 14
I do not believe in miracles, “miracles” that is with an “s”. I do believe in a singular miracle: the miracle of our utterly improbable existence. “Soul” for me has nothing to do with consciousness, self or identity. Rather, I think of soul as signifying the relationship each object has with the Creative Source, which sustains existence. At this point you might assume that “Creative Source” is my name for “God.” But I don’t believe in god. The notion of “God generally includes a variety of features: consciousness, compassion, judgment, intention, favor, purposefulness, power and knowledge, just to name a few. My “Creative Source” has none of these attributes. The Creative Source is simple beyond imagination. Creation is usually viewed as a top-down process. I take a more “grass roots” position. Consciousness is a complex form that emerges out of a simpler biological system. Life is a complex form that emerges out of a simpler organic system. Molecules are forms that emerge out of a simpler atomic system. I believe that the basic physical stuff of existence is an emergent form that arising out of the Creative Source, an absolutely simple ground of being. And the science of Quantum Physics tells us that the most basic particles are continuously coming into existence and fading away. The world is in a continual state of becoming. Animism is built upon a relational ontology, which is to say that everything exists in relationship. We are not on the world; we are with the world. While traditional animism, the original mother religion, builds this relationship by projecting human characteristics onto the natural world, the sacred relationship of modern animism is exposed in the deprivileging of this anthropocentric perspective. For the modern animist, it is the shared feature of existence itself, which provides a spiritual union and kinship with all creation. Life, consciousness and will are all contingent complexities providing diversity and interest, but the shared vitality, which is the focus of modern animism, is our basic instantiation mysteriously arising out of the Creative Source. My animism is not so much a belief system as an attitude. It is, for me, the way I am in the world. Animism is the experience of oneness with the world, an appreciation of a shared status as a beneficiary of an endlessly unfolding creation. The animist proclaims, “Behold, the glory of creation is upon us!” From this appreciation of oneness springs two secondary attitudes: Gratitude for the Creative Source that continually sustains existence and a Compassion for all beings which flows from our kinship as mutual expressions of creation. Animism provides me with a sense of Oneness, Compassion and Gratitude. This may seem meager when compared with the bells and whistles offered by other religious traditions, yet I not only find the Animistic Attitude sufficient. I find Animism to be a bountiful response to life. 15
Marilyn John Luther Adams, a Washington native and perhaps the greatest Unitarian theologian of the 20th Century proclaims that ours must be a “Free Faith”. Barbara And the freedom to which Adams refers is the willingness to treat all statements of faith as malleable and open to revision in the face of our changing world and growing understanding. Mike The idea of the “Free Faith” accepts the fallibility of beliefs and encourages humility, a softening of the attachments to our beliefs and the continual reexamination of our sense of reality. Donna The Third Principle asks us to engage in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Mike I take the term “responsible” in this principle as an appeal to each of us to treat the discovery of “truth” as a serious ambition. Marilyn Henry Wieman another Unitarian theologian finds the divine in the “Creative Interchange” that occurs when people share their perspectives with each other. Barbara As new perspectives are integrated into the community vocabulary there is a consequent widening and deepening of the mutual understanding and mutual support of the participants. Donna As we understand another’s reality though encounters with their beliefs, emotions, values and meaning, we see universal human needs expressed in a uniquely organized responses to the individual experience. Mike Creative Interchange leads to compassion as we find our own struggles mirrored in another. We may not accept a vastly differing belief, but if we understand how it accounts for the experience of another there may be nuances, which expand and strengthen our own insights.
Donna What about beliefs, which are racist or hateful? Am I supposed to open myself to these messages? Mike The Fifth Principle stands for the right of conscience. Barbara I am empowered by this principle to speak out against views that I find incompatible with a healthy community. Marilyn Yet, while we grant to each other the right of conscience, most occasions of discomfort with the beliefs of others are opportunities for understanding rather than debate. Donna Our beliefs are an essential part of who we are. We are all believers. If we are to understand each other, we are called to find in one another the role played by beliefs. Marilyn First and foremost, the engagement of differing beliefs should not be about right or wrong, but about how they make sense of our experience. Mike Let me conclude by suggesting that in your encounters with each other, if you do not know the beliefs of another person, invite those beliefs into the conversation. Beliefs are powerful, formed in ways beyond our control and fallible, but they are also who we are. Mike Please rise as you are willing and able to join me in signing Hymn 123 “Spirit of Life” Closing Song – Carry the Flame
Benediction Ts’its’tsi’nako is thinking about a field beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing. I'll meet you there.
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