Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Cliff Reed
We gather to share our faith
in the spirit of freedom,
our doubts in the spirit of honesty.
We gather to focus our love in prayer,
to send it to those who suffer and grieve –
in our own community
and in the wider world.
We gather to strengthen the good that is in us,
that goodness may be stronger on the earth.
We gather to worship.
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) words by Lindsay Bates
To face the world’s darkness —
a chalice of light.
To face the world’s coldness —
a chalice of warmth.
To face the world’s terrors —
a chalice of courage.
To face the world’s turmoil —
a chalice of peace.
May its glow fill our hearts, our spirits, and our lives.
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,
in this not quite yet post-Covid world,
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 Room for Darkness by Cliff Reed
We are a fellowship –
a place to share insights and ideas,
a place to foster faith and sometimes find joy,
a place where we can be ourselves and let others do the same.
We are a fellowship of the liberal path,
open-minded, open-hearted – at least, that’s our aim.
But is there room for the darkness,
the shadow beneath the chalice flame?
Is this a place where we can bring our pain,
our confusion, our despair?
Let us say that it is such a place,
a place for the whole of life’s experience,
a place for healing and solace.
And let us not just say that it is.
Let us make it so, difficult though that may be.
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 Love and Death by Forrest Church
This reading was written the day after the 9/11 disaster. At that time, Forrest Church was a UU minister in New York City.
How precious life is and how fragile. We know this as we rarely have before, deep within our bones we do. I am not certain how much more we know right now. Our minds imprinted with templates of horror, our hearts bereft with truly unimaginable loss, we face a newly uncertain future. The signposts have all been blown away…
We must recall history’s most ironic lesson: choose your enemies carefully, for you will become like them. If we answer the hatred of others with hatred of our own, we and our enemies will soon be indistinguishable. It is hard, I know, to curb the passion for vengeance. When we see Palestinian children dancing in the street to celebrate the slaughter of our neighbours and loved ones, how can we help but feel a surge of disgust and anger, the very emotions that precipitate hatred. But the Palestinians are not our enemy. Nor are the Muslims. This is not, as some historians would have it, a war between civilisations. It is a war between civilisation and anarchy, a war of God-demented nihilists against the very fabric of world order. I hope you will go out of your way in the days ahead to practice the second great commandment and love your Arab neighbours as yourself. Few outside the circle of those who lost loved ones in yesterday’s tragedy are more surely its victims than are the millions of innocent Muslims whose God’s name has been taken in vain.
Prayer 10 September 2011, after remarks by Randy Becker author unknown (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
This day is like any other day,
except that it isn’t.
The sun rises, people wake,
there’s coffee and tea,
porridge and toast,
a full cooked breakfast perhaps.
We look out on the day and wonder what might
come of it.
This day is like any other day,
except that it isn’t.
Ten (now twenty) years ago,
the buzz of a huge city
was brought to a crashing halt.
Planes and smoke and terror,
the mad attempt to save
this one or that one,
anyone who could be saved.
Glass and steel shattering,
lives — bodies — disintegrating,
as it fell into twisted
This day is like any other day,
except for the terrible
the cancers that linger,
the grief that will
end for some.
And this day is like any other:
we wake, and hope for the best,
we wake, and say a little prayer:
May all be well.
May the grieving find comfort.
May the afflicted feel care,
be healed in whatever way healing can come.
May those filled with anger find peace,
may the violent find peace,
may we all find peace.
This day is like any other,
and our prayers are still
as they are every day,
as we seek to open in compassion for all beings,
as we hold a vision of peace and comfort and love
for the world, so weary, so weary.
It’s just today, like any other day, except that it isn’t quite,
we remember a little more,
and pray a little harder,
‘never again, we pray, never again.’
So may it be.
Reading 11th September 2001: For America and the World by Cliff Reed
This reading, by Cliff Reed, was written two days after the 9/11 disaster. Twenty years later, as the world continues to lurch from crisis to crisis, his words still, sadly, resonate:
This is not time for words, yet we must speak –
and we must speak of shock and disbelief and grief inconsolable.
How could it be?
These scenes of ruin and terror, fire and dust –
the world’s familiar things turned into hell?
This is not one tragedy, but thousands –
surging out like falling rubble to engulf the lives of thousands more
with death and fear and desperate anger.
Who could do such things? What abdication of humanity, what profundity of hatred, what godless satanic bitterness could so possess a human mind and drive it to such evil?
This we ask in our confusion.
And so we pray –
not sure in faith, not sure to whom we pray, or why,
but in confusion.
We pray for the injured and the dead,
not in their thousands but one by one –
the office worker starting her day,
the traveller on a plane,
the firefighter rushing to save lives…
we pray for their recovery or their eternal rest…
We pray that wisdom will rule the reaction, that pain will not give way to blind vengeance, that the innocent will not suffer with the guilty.
We give thanks for the human response to untold suffering:
the compassion, the generosity, the gifts of life-blood. We pray that,
out of evil and disaster, the divine might work some good unhoped for.
We pray that a consciousness of common humanity may touch the hearts of those who, in their own pain, might celebrate this wickedness.
We pray that those who have shown such contempt for ordinary people and their special, sacred lives may come to realise the enormity of their crime and the falsehood of the malice that perverts their souls.
And should they repent – from the very core of their being – for what they have done, grant us, O compassionate and merciful One, the grace to forgive.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Since the towers fell: for the 11th of September by Cliff Reed (adapted)
Years lengthen since the towers fell;
since four planes, hijacked
by malice and delusion,
took war to America and the world;
since three thousand martyrs died,
drawn from many faiths and ninety nations.
And still they die, as the years pass,
choked and poisoned by those clouds
of deadly dust.
We pause in sorrowful remembrance… [silence]
Those who slaughtered the innocent
in God’s name await divine judgement.
Yet we must also look to our own lives, our own souls,
and see what needs correction there.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Twentieth Anniversary of 9/11
Last Thursday was the 20th anniversary of the acts of mindless violence which came to be known as “9/11”, and there has been much coverage of it in the media. And to commemorate this anniversary, in the US, special ceremonies have been taking place at Ground Zero in New York, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center used to stand, which has become, in a very particular way, hallowed ground.
Ten years ago, on the tenth anniversary, a memorial was dedicated, based on the footprints of the twin towers. The holes have been turned into memorials to the nearly 3,000 dead, their sides engraved with their names, which are movingly arranged by friendship or association, rather than alphabetically.
What have we learned since then? It seems that if anything, our communities are more divided rather than less. Senseless acts of violence, whether in the form of bombings, like the Manchester Arena bombing four years ago, or against people who are different to us, like the killing of George Floyd, continue to happen with devastating regularity.
When something dreadful happens, we have a choice about how we are going to respond. It’s quite a simple choice, really, and it’s made on quite a deep, often sub-conscious level. We can choose to respond with fear or hatred, or we can choose to respond with love.
When I undertook my survey of Unitarian beliefs and spirituality, four years ago, one of the questions was, “What do you believe about the nature of evil?” I believe that in the violent world in which we live, it is vital to think these things through, so that we can respond appropriately, rather than reflexively lashing out at the innocent.
So let’s think about the nature of evil. My own belief is that nobody is born evil. Who could believe that an innocent babe, fresh from the womb, is evil? Nevertheless, through a combination of factors, such as upbringing, poor environment, bad nutrition, mental instability, brain-washing, people are driven to do acts which we judge to be evil. Almost all the respondents of the survey were very clear that no-one is evil in the beginning, but that the capacity to do evil is within every human being, and must be kept in check, by each and every one of us. Evil comes from an absence of compassion, an inability to feel with the other. It is about the deliberate choice to do the wrong things, not the right one. Which many people would define as sin, although this is not a term much used in Unitarian circles.
But people are not evil. Only the acts they do are evil. It is important to hold on to that distinction. I have to wonder what lies the perpetrators of the 9/11 disaster or the Manchester Arena suicide bomber were told, so that they believed that blowing themselves and other people up was the next right thing to do. There is always more than one side to every question. For me, the lies that these people were surely told are the real sin, the real evil. Sin as falling short of the standards we know are right, that we should be aspiring to.
I believe we need to be very careful about making snap judgements about such things, based on second hand evidence, such as that posted in the media, or even by friends whose opinions we respect. Each of us has a duty to investigate matters personally, and then come to an informed viewpoint. Because in the twenty years since 9/11, Muslims have been in danger of becoming the West’s go-to scapegoats, as the Jews were in 1930s Germany.
I also believe that while freedom of speech is very important, respecting others’ beliefs is also very important. Think of the Golden Rule: do not do unto others what you would not like done unto you. We need to be careful that we aren’t making judgements from a position of Western non-understanding and privilege. There are two sides to most issues, and it is very easy only to see one, because that is the only one portrayed in the Western media. As my friend Yvonne Aburrow wrote, in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo bombing in 2017,
“Condemning the murderers does not mean you have to endorse the politics of the victims. Condemning the politics of the victims does not mean you endorse the actions of the murderers.”
Speaking of privilege, there have been far too many killings of black people by police in the US in recent years, most recently the death of George Floyd. My friend, Unitarian Universalist minister Victoria Weinstein, wrote an anguished post towards the end of 2014, following one of these killings: “On what planet do we really think it’s acceptable for a police officer to kill a teenager who may or may not have stolen a few cigars from the corner store, who may or may not have behaved in a belligerent way and then have the police chief and governor respond to our community’s outrage over his murder with tanks and tear gas? How would we feel, how would we respond, what would we demand, if there was no official comment or information for an entire day after one of our teenagers was shot dead in the street?”
Shocking and horrifying stuff. And your reaction may be like mine was, initially, until I caught myself doing it: “That’s in America, *we’re* not like that.” But, here’s the thing, we are. In the few days after the Charlie Hebdo killings, there were fifteen attacks on Muslim communities all around France. And after the death of Private Lee Rigby in this country, innocent Muslims were attacked, just for being Muslim.
But we are all human beings. We were all made in God’s image. Whether we are Muslim, Christian, Jew, Atheist, or even Unitarian. As Forrest Church wrote in our second reading, “Few outside the circle of those who lost loved ones in yesterday’s tragedy are more surely its victims than are the millions of innocent Muslims whose God’s name has been taken in vain.” We need to move beyond knee-jerk reactions, when we are faced with violence of all kinds.
I totally condemn every killing of one human being by another. And I totally condemn the evil people who have chosen to turn their backs on God, and to preach hatred and put weapons into hands of young men who know no better, or no different. We each only have one precious life, which we should be allowed to live, in peace.
In trying to make sense of all the senseless violence in the world, I have to conclude that I cannot support total freedom of speech, if its purpose is solely to mock and satirise the dearly-held beliefs of others. Respect for others is also important. I have to prioritise the values of the Charter for Compassion, which asks us to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes, before commenting on their actions. And to avoid deliberately causing pain to another, at all costs. I do not condone unnecessary deaths, but neither do I condone stirring up hatred and intolerance, through the publication of articles or cartoons, on the one hand, or through indoctrination and radicalisation, on the other. We are all unique, precious, sons and daughters of God, and we need to respect that of God in each other. And I believe what I was taught as a child, that two wrongs do not make a right, and that revenge killings and attacks just make matters worse. As Gandhi once wrote, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”
I would like to finish on a more hopeful note by sharing the words of Rev. Donna Schaper, Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church, near Ground Zero, who shared a hopeful reflection on the Daily Devotions website, this time ten years ago, which sums up my hopes for the future:
“Across the street from Judson Memorial Church, on the South End of Washington Square Park, a seven-storey Spiritual Life Center is opening at New York University. Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and more will cohabit a space. Students will learn a new way of campus ministry. We joke about whether such ecumenicity is too close or too far way from Ground Zero. Framed between this new building and our own rises a new, smaller tower at the World Trade Center. From the arch at Washington Square Park North, you see all three buildings, as though they were always there, as though we hadn’t lived through a decade of emptiness in the sky or immature religion on the ground, and Americans, Afghanis and Iraqis uselessly dead in wars no-one really understands. The artists and architects have given us what we couldn’t find ourselves. They have shown us a new sky and a new scape. From these we will also draw a new spirit, a mature religion, and a revenge-free way of living under one sky.
God of earth and air and sky and water, God whom no one faith can capture, draw near and let this next decade be one of remembering how much we love each other. Help us beyond high-priced, useless revenge into free and abundant relationship. Amen.”
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we rise above the violence
Which divides us, and learn to see
That of God in everyone.
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