Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words First They Came by Pastor Martin Niemöller
First they came for the Communists,
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Socialists,
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me,
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.00 am on Sunday morning)
May the light we now kindle
Inspire us to use our powers
To heal and not to harm,
To help and not to hinder,
To bless and not to curse,
To serve you, Spirit of freedom.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
each in their own place.
Help us to feel a sense of community,
even though we are physically apart.
Help us to care for each other,
as we come out of lockdown,
keeping in touch however we can,
and helping each other,
however we may.
May we remember that
caution is still needed,
that close contact is still unwise.
Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have
and to respect the wishes of others.
May we hold in our hearts all those
Who are grieving, lost, alone,
Suffering in any way.
Reading Black Ribbon Day from Wikipedia
Black Ribbon Day, officially known in the European Union as the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, is an international day of remembrance for the victims of totalitarian regimes, specifically Stalinist, communist, Nazi and fascist regimes. Formally recognised by the European Union and a number of other countries, it is observed on 23 August and symbolizes the rejection of “extremism, intolerance and oppression”. The purpose of this Day of Remembrance is to preserve the memory of the victims of mass deportations and exterminations, while promoting democratic values with the aim to reinforce peace and stability in Europe. It is one of the two official remembrance days or observances of the European Union, alongside Europe Day. Under the name Black Ribbon Day it is also an official remembrance day of Canada, the United States and other countries.
The remembrance day has its origins in Cold War-era protests in Western countries against the Soviet Union that gained prominence in the years leading up to the Revolutions of 1989 and that inspired the 1989 Baltic Way, a major demonstration where two million people joined their hands to call for an end to the Soviet occupation.
The remembrance day is part of a common European response to Russian disinformation that seeks to deny Soviet war crimes and other atrocities and justify Soviet invasions and occupations, and has been attacked by Vladimir Putin‘s Russian government for its condemnation of Stalinism. In a 2019 resolution, the European Parliament highlighted the importance of 23 August in pushing back against a Russian “information war waged against democratic Europe.”
Alternative Lord’s Prayer
Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,
May we be aware of your presence in our lives.
May our world be blessed.
May our daily needs be met,
And may our shortcomings be forgiven,
As we forgive those of others.
Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,
The inspiration and guidance to do right,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.
May we have compassion for all living beings,
And receive whatever life brings,
With courage and trust. Amen
Reading from the author’s Afterword to If This Is A Man by Primo Levi
If understanding is impossible, knowing is imperative, because what happened could happen again. Conscience can be seduced and obscured again – even our consciences.
For this reason, it is everyone’s duty to reflect on what happened. Everyone must know, or remember, that when Hitler and Mussolini spoke in public, they were believed, applauded, admired, adored like gods. They were ‘charismatic leaders’; they possessed a secret power of seduction that did not proceed from the credibility or the soundness of the things they said but from the suggestive way in which they said them, from their eloquence, from their histrionic art. … They were acclaimed with hosannahs and followed to the death by millions of the faithful. We must remember that these faithful followers … were not born torturers, were not (with a few exceptions) monsters: they were ordinary men. Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions, like Eichmann; like Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz; like Stangl, commandant of Treblinka; like the French military of twenty years later, slaughterers in Algeria; like the Khmer Rouge of the late seventies, slaughterers in Cambodia.
It is therefore necessary to be suspicious of those who seek to convince us with means other than reason, and of charismatic leaders: we must be cautious about delegating to others our judgement and our will.
Prayer Prayers said on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the death of Anne Frank
God, you created us all in your own likeness.
We thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in your world.
Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellow feeling and understanding;
show us your presence in those most different from us, so that in all our relationships,
both by what we have in common and by things in which we differ,
we may come to know you more fully in your creation.
Judge eternal, bringer of justice,
hear the cry of those who suffer under the lash of heartless political oppression;
those who languish in prisons and labour camps, untried or falsely condemned;
those whose bodies are shattered,
or whose minds are unhinged by torture or deprivation.
Meet them in their anguish and despair,
and kindle in them the light of hope,
that they may find rest in your love,
healing in your compassion
and faith in your mercy.
Reading Melody of Freedom by Steve Dick, from With Heart and Mind 2
[Paul] Robeson captures the essence of freedom, the defining bedrock of our liberal faith, by hearing it as a melody – ‘a sequence of tones related to one another so as to make up a particular phrase or idea’.
Freedom is often perceived as a direction, escape (freedom from) or opportunity (freedom to or for) as if it is little more than offering a means to an end. This emphasis on liberation is a vital part of the human story and loses no honour in the simple power of an aspiration. Yet its defining element as part of the music of our faith communities – crossing language and cultural boundaries – is in the rhythm formed by the notes of freedom in, just as necessary to the sequence as escape and opportunity.
We march proudly in service of liberation with those compelled by their own faiths to take up Robeson’s peaceful weapons, lifting our voices in song and action, hoping to prevail against fear and despair. Where we sometimes find ourselves marching to Thoreau’s different drummer is when we sing the tones that apply freedom not only to the boundaries but also to the very stuff of our faith and religion.
Freedom in faith is recognising the continuing nature of revelation, living in the questions, open to new insights and discoveries.
Freedom in religion is appreciative challenge of our own experiences as stories to be rewritten as life is lived. This is not lukewarm toleration of that which wakes us in the night but radical engagement in the connective tissues we know as our soul.
We are frail, unequal to the tasks we face; but I believe our salvation is in our service to freedom from that which destroys life; in our commitment to freedom for radical opportunity and hospitality; and in our passion for freedom in the spiritual dialogue that unites us.
Time of Stillness and Reflection by Steve Dick, from With Heart and Mind 2
We take a few precious moments to turn inwards.
Tune out the sounds and bustle of the noise that surrounds us.
Listen for the melody of freedom within the music of our heart.
It can be heard when we can be quiet and peaceful enough to hear the song of our soul… the still, small voice within that warbles our story as a ballad still being composed.
Knowing that sustaining faith and inspiring vision can only be in harmony when the inner voice is free…
Hear the rhythm, sing the rhythm, be the rhythm…
The rhythm that flows through the verses of our internal bible.
The beginning verse of liberation, freedom from that which wounds the spirit of life in us and in our companions in this world.
The middle verse of continuing revelation, freedom to grow and develop as stories are told and shared and change our worlds.
And the third verse embodies the melody necessary to complete the rhythm.
Freedom in faith to live in the questions…
Freedom in religion to appreciatively challenge what we have inherited and to engage with that which wakes us in the night…
Leave the lyrics – surrender to the symphony within the silence…
And when the heart song has been sung and the percussion added by our soul has completed tapping out the rhythm of freedom…
The refrain of our prayer is to take our voice wherever to share the melody of freedom (to, from and in) – to sing it, to hear it and to live it – for the Good of all, that we know and love.
The song of freedom must prevail.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Black Ribbon Day
Many of us wear a red ribbon on 1st December, World Aids Day, to help raise awareness (and life-changing funds) to fight HIV, the world over. And many of us wear a pink ribbon as an international symbol of breast cancer awareness and to remember friends and family members who have been lost to this disease. There are many others – I came across a website offering sixty-five – which listed hundreds of causes that such coloured ribbons raise awareness for.
But I hadn’t heard of Black Ribbon Day. As we heard in our first reading, it is tomorrow, 23rd August, and is a European day of remembrance “for the victims of totalitarian regimes, specifically Stalinist, communist, Nazi and fascist regimes.” Until now, I had thought that Holocaust Memorial Day, on 27th January, the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, was the main one. But apparently, Black Ribbon Day was established in 1986 and was formally designated by the European Parliament in 2008/2009 as “a Europe-wide Day of Remembrance for the victims of all authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, to be commemorated with dignity and impartiality.”
World War II has been over for 76 years, and yet such reminders are still needed. Now, in 2021, there are still far too many “victims of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes”, still far too many people who do not have the precious freedom to believe and say and act their deepest truths. An article on the World Population Reviews website defines totalitarian countries as “nations in which the government does not permit its people to partake in political decision making. Totalitarian countries are also known as dictatorship countries. A totalitarian country is ruled by a single dictator or a group that has not been collectively elected.
The ruling leaders of totalitarian countries do not merely enact laws. Instead, the people or person in charge controls all aspects of both public and private life. There is no limit to what a totalitarian government can control because there are no checks or balances placed on the country’s leaders. Essentially, totalitarians can do whatever suits their agenda and say anything that comes to mind. As a result, totalitarian countries are absolutely against the right of free speech, which includes a ban on any and all freedoms of the press. Some ideologies, beliefs, and religions may even be forbidden in a totalitarian country.”
It says that there are only two totalitarian countries in the world at present: North Korea and Eritrea. But I would argue that there are many more in which at least some of the precious freedoms about which Steve Dick spoke in our third reading are not available, in which distinct sectors of the population live in fear and despair.
And even when people live in “democratic” countries, such as the United Kingdom, they may still not feel free to be themselves. This may be on account of cultural and societal pressures to conform, to stay quiet, to say nothing, rather than from fear of imminent death, but it is still not right. It is still not right that Black, Indigenous and other People of Colour feel they need to wear a mask to be accepted in a white-centred community, that they are widely discriminated against. It is still not right that people of the LGBTQ+ community feel uneasy about holding hands or kissing each other in public. To give but two examples.
In 2012, Maz and I spent our Summer holiday in Poland. Nearly a decade later, I still have vivid memories of our visit to the Nazi concentration camps Auschwitz and Birkenau. Being there reminded me forcibly of the power of evil. The sheer scale of the suffering undergone by the Jews, Poles, gypsies, Communists and other prisoners was horrendous. It was part of a deliberate and evil plan to “free the German nation of Poles, Russians, Jews and Gypsies”, in the words of Otto Thierach, Hitler’s so-called Minister of Justice. Jews in particular were to be totally exterminated, being seen as sub-human vermin.
It was a task undertaken with meticulous and horrifying efficiency, carefully documented every step of the way. Apart, of course, from the 75% of the Jews arriving at Birkenau, who were simply marched down the platform from the transports straight to the gas chambers and murdered on the spot. The ruined gas chamber that we saw there (one of four) could take 1500 people at a time, and their murders took about 20 minutes. The scale of this evil was almost too much to take in.
Yet I don’t believe in evil as an independent power in the world. No-one is born evil – there is no such thing as original sin. I believe that every human being has the power to choose between good and evil. However, the choices that each person makes will set them on a path towards a life filled with good deeds or evil ones, and the farther one walks along the chosen path, the harder it is to turn aside. As the Native Americans believe, “it depends which wolf you feed.”
I have to believe that there is a divine spark “that of God” in everyone, but perhaps those people we call evil choose to ignore its promptings. There are many degrees of evil; for example, I do not believe that the majority of German people during Hitler’s Reich chose evil consciously, although the dyed in the wool Nazis certainly seem to have done. But the Nazi propaganda machine awakened the latent anti-Semitism in many German hearts, giving them someone to blame for their hard lives, and enabling them to believe its lies, and close their eyes to what was going on.
Yet there were some who turned their backs on the temptation to evil and chose good. For example, Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, the Catholic priest who took someone else’s place in a starvation cell in Auschwitz and died on 14th August eighty years ago. Or the brave Poles who risked their lives to help the Auschwitz inmates by providing them with food and medicine, and organised escapes. And of course, Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of over 1,000 Jews, as famously portrayed in the Spielberg film Schindler’s List. [pause]
As we were holidaying in Poland, I thought it fitting that my holiday reading should be Nostromo by the brilliant Polish-born author, Joseph Conrad. I studied it for A level many years ago and hadn’t read it for ages. I had forgotten how brilliant it is.
It is a story on the grand scale, whose main theme concerns the (generally tragic) consequences of idealism, either in oneself or in others. Most of the main characters suffer on account of their own or somebody else’s devotion to an ideal.
What hadn’t struck me until two-thirds of the way through the novel and the end of the holiday was how it fitted in with our visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau. The Nazis too were obsessed by an ideal: the supremacy of the Herrenvolk, the German race, and the elimination of all others. And this ideal, like many in Nostromo, led to death and destruction on a large scale.
It seems that if we allow ourselves to become obsessed by an ideal, its skews our judgement and corrupts our reason. If we idealise something or somebody, we don’t see it / them straight. Examples of this are littered throughout history (and sadly, very often have to do with one party’s religious ideals conflicting with another’s). And the dangerous idea of “the good old days”, which never truly existed, but which causes so many people to be resistant to change, resistant to accepting the new, resistant to accepting the other. Truly, the roots of evil are ignorance and propaganda.
Think about the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Great Ejection over 350 years ago; and in more modern times, Hitler’s Final Solution, the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, the Rwandan massacre, 9/11 and so on. If you strip every example back to basics, they all happened because one group of people stopped recognising their essential commonality with another group of people (that of being fellow human beings) and got carried away by the idea that their point of view or ideal was the only correct one, and that therefore people with different points of view should be eliminated.
It is only by the exercise of compassion, by being open to the hearts and minds of others, by recognising that each of us is “unique, precious, a child of God”, that the closed mind and consequent intolerance can be avoided.
Ignorance breeds intolerance, which in turn breeds fear and hatred, which can easily turn into all-out strife. Unfortunately, many unscrupulous politicians who sit at particular points on the religious or cultural divide, see it as their job in life to foment intolerance and fear, so that they can whip “their” people up to commit acts of aggression and violence in the name of religion or communism or the American Way of Life – whatever! The links between states and religions are very strong; the dividing line between tribalism and nationalism is a very thin one.
So what can we, as Unitarians, do to fight against intolerance, against lack of freedom, (even, and perhaps especially, if it does not affect us directly)? Look at our three great tenets of freedom, reason and tolerance – individual freedom of belief according to individual reason and conscience. But also a tigerish determination to fight for the right of others to enjoy the same freedom to worship in whatever way they choose, so long as it doesn’t harm anybody else. And not only to worship, but to live in the world free from discrimination because of their gender, race or sexuality. Our “fellowship in diversity” (happy phrase) aims to be tolerant towards others. As Joyce Grenfell beautifully puts it, we believe in “loving in spite of human imperfection.”
We all have the power to choose, every day, between acts that will make the world a better or a worse place for its inhabitants, not only our fellow human beings, but all living things. May we choose wisely, with compassion. Amen
Closing Words by Sue Woolley and Frederick E. Gillis
Spirit of Life and Love,
open our hearts and minds
to the necessities of freedom and tolerance.
May the love that overcomes all differences,
that heals all wounds,
that puts to flight all fears,
that reconciles all who are separated,
Be in us and among us
now and always.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
may we share the love we feel,
may we look out for each other,
and may we keep up our hearts,
now and in the days to come.
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley