I’ve been thinking an awful lot about this divided country we live in, and how the divides and polarization seem to be happening at every level; certainly, we see it at the national level, in our congress and senate. It’s happening at the state, county, and municipal levels, too. So it would be silly to think that our communities and families aren’t also affected by it.
I’m trying to understand the dynamics behind all of this divisiveness that, sadly, all too often results in distrust, hate, and violence. Why and how is this happening? How can we do things differently so that this is not the result?
One thing I’ve noticed is an inability (or an unwillingness) to tolerate someone who thinks differently than we do. We each seem to have our particular issues that we use as litmus tests for determining whether we can include a person in our life (if a person doesn’t agree with me about Y, then there is no room for them in my life). I agree that our time and energy are limited resources, and we must be mindful and intentional of where we invest them. But I am somewhat worried that we are experiencing a tendency toward surrounding ourselves with only those who think like we do, and intentionally excluding from our life and experience those who think differently. I find this worrisome because I believe it is exactly the opposite approach to what my faith tells me is necessary to build the Beloved Community.
I have heard many Unitarian Universalists (here at WUUC and in other places and congregations) share that they enjoy belonging to “a community of like-minded folks.” I like that they like their community, but I worry that the source of that feeling of belonging comes from like-mindedness. I worry about this, because what happens then when we come to something we disagree about? Is that it? One of us has to leave the community? Our basis for acceptance of one another cannot hinge upon whether we are like-minded. Can we shift, instead, toward being like-hearted? I am reminded of the quote often attributed to Unitarian Francis David (but likely actually came from John Wesley, a Methodist; either way, it’s a good quote):
“We need not think alike, to love alike.”
I hope we can sit with this, and see how it affects us. See if what I’ve been observing you also are seeing. If you are, and if you are as troubled by it as I am, I wonder if we can consider making a shift from being like-minded to being like-hearted? If we can start by accepting the person, even if we don’t accept all of their ideas? My hope is that this is the shift that will change the trajectory of our divided nation. And it starts, not at the top, but right here in our homes and communities. Grass-roots, not trickle-down. I don’t know if it will work. But I’m hopeful, and that hope inspires me to try.
We were hoping for a better 2021 when the year kicked off, but it’s been a rough start.
The insurrection at the United States Capitol was a scary thing to watch. And despite two vaccines, the COVID19 virus is adapting and spreading even more quickly than when it first arrived in the country; and after months of “pandemic fatigue,” it is even harder for many folks to double down and stay apart, even though that’s exactly what this moment calls for. We hit the 400,000 mark for COVID deaths, and projections show us hitting 500,00 deaths in a month. When numbers get this high, they become statistics, and it becomes hard to even imagine tragedy on such a broad scale. There is so much suffering, so much loss. And sadly, I sense that many of us are beginning to feel a numbness in response because continuing to express our true grief for such a prolonged period feels impossible.
Despite of all of this, we go on. We try to live our lives. Hold regular church services. Check in with each other by phone, email, and Zoom. Go for socially-distanced walks. Work. Eat. Play, however we can.
This moment has me reflecting on why we are a church. What are we here to do together? What are we supposed to be doing, for each other, and for those beyond our church community? How much of that can we continue to do during this pandemic, and how much has to wait?
How much of what we are going through now will we carry with us when the pandemic ends? What are we learning about ourselves and our community? About resiliency? About spiritual and emotional sustenance? About our need for each other?
Lots of questions. The answers are coming more slowly. But this I know: we are figuring it out together. Even in our loneliness, we are not truly alone.
I invite you to take some time to reflect, and not just on my questions, but your own. What questions are coming up for you? Where do your thoughts go when you pause and sit for a few moments? It may be that, like me, you have more questions than answers. And that’s okay; that’s where we are right now. So bring your questions, your answers, and your whole self. Our community needs you more than ever, just as you are, right now.
I know 2020 was a tough year. And, certainly, it was harder for some than for others. The pandemic exposed the inequality in our systems, as we saw those who were already marginalized being disproportionately affected by the pandemic and the economic recession. These are realities we cannot ignore. What we already knew, and was made even clearer by the circumstances of 2020, is that we have work to do if we truly believe what we say about beloved community.
That said, I hope that closing the book on 2020 can begin to give us the space and the distance to reflect on our experiences of the past year. I hope (and believe) that we will find that there were gems of joy; moments of beauty; fleeting instances when laughter snuck in and made us forget (for just a second) that the world was in a state of chaos and upheaval.
Look for those moments. Remember them, too, as part of this year. Because nothing is entirely good, nor entirely bad. Everything, every year, everybody, has the capacity (and the realization) of “goodness” and “badness.”
So as we gain some distance from the year that will go down in infamy, let’s be careful how we tell our story of the past year. Yes, it was hard. Yes, it was painful. But try to remember those redemptive moments too, so we can tell the whole story. May we find the sweet among the bitter.
It is December. We’re past Thanksgiving, which means we are officially in the holiday season. And while I think it is fair to say that nothing about this year has been normal, I suspect that this holiday time of long-standing traditions and gathering with loved ones will feel especially different.
This year, you probably won’t be seeing your loved ones. (Please don’t if they live outside of your household!) You probably won’t be baking as many holiday treats, or going to parties or fun holiday gatherings. You probably won’t be singing carols.
But even in these not-normal times, some things about the holidays don’t change: this is still a season that is (or at least, should be) about love and peace. And so, this is just your friendly ministerial reminder that you are worthy of love and deserving of peace. Even if you don’t find the perfect present for everyone on your list. Even if you don’t host your annual holiday party this year. Even if you don’t put up a tree, or light the Menorah. You are worthy of love and deserving of peace, and there is nothing you can do about it. You are sacred and worthy.
I wish this for you:
May you be connected to your loved ones; if not in the same place, then through phone calls, greeting cards, and Zoom gatherings. May this time and distance apart offer you spaciousness. May you find joy in simplicity.
In this holiday season (a much simpler holiday season), may love and peace find you in abundance.
I keep hearing (and only halfway in jest) that folks are done with 2020; that we’ve already faced more than a year’s worth of corruption, destruction, oppression, depression, cancellation, and frustration. And not only have we been dealt a horrible set of circumstances (a pandemic, social isolation, economic turmoil, hurricanes, fires, etc.), but I am finding that perhaps more than the circumstances themselves, I am disappointed by the unbelievable responses to these conditions that some people have chosen: not wearing masks, or refusing to follow other common-sense (and very easy) health practices; believing baseless conspiracy theories; and generally rejecting basic truths and demonstrable facts. And much of this is to justify hateful and dehumanizing attitudes and behaviors.
How did we get here?
When studying the Holocaust in middle school, I wondered how so many people could be convinced to participate in or go along with something so obviously evil. I couldn’t understand how an overwhelming majority of folks at the time didn’t just stop it from happening.
Well now, as we face our current circumstances, I find myself in a dark moment of reckoning with my beliefs about the nature of us humans. I long ago rejected the Calvinist theology of human depravity and original sin; instead, I leaned more in the direction of original blessing, a term coined by Episcopal priest Matthew Fox, and a belief in the inherent goodness of humans. But this current moment has me reconsidering our human capacity for good and evil. Our goodness is certainly not a given. The agency we possess as humans, our free will, means that we have the ability to choose evil. To choose hate. And sometimes, we do.
But while this is true, so is the opposite: any human goodness in the world is because humans choose goodness. In difficult times (such as these), my optimism comes not from believing that we will always do good over evil because we are predisposed to do so, but that good is an option for us to choose. We have that option. We can choose goodness over evil. We can choose compassion, justice, and love. All of these are resources that, in the words of pre-eminent 20th century theologian and Unitarian minister James Luther Adams, “are available for the achievement of meaningful change [and] justify an attitude of ultimate optimism.”
We have what we need to make the world better. Now we must decide to do it. After all, we have other options.
But even now, when many seem ready to give up on 2020, I will choose to do everything I can to ensure it ends better than it started. My Unitarian Universalist faith tells me it is possible.
Will you join me?
Peace and Blessings,
 Adams, James Luther. On Being Human Religiously. Ed M. Stackhouse, Beacon Press, 1976, p 19.
Time is playing tricks on me. In some ways, I can
hardly believe another month has gone by, and October is already upon us. But
when I look back at September, some of what occurred early in the month seems
so long ago, because so much has happened since!
In the past month, I’ve had many meetings, phone calls, and Zoom chats. I’ve met with the board, the Ministry Council, the Worship Team, the Lay Pastoral Associates, the Finance Committee, and many other groups, teams, committees, and task forces. As I’ve been getting to know you better as a community, I’m learning some important things:
First, my initial impression is continuing to prove
true. You are a warm, caring bunch; not without disagreements and differences
in perspective, but no community agrees on everything. What’s important is that
you love and care about each other.
Second, you seem thirsty. Thirsty for engagement.
Thirsty for connection. Thirsty for spiritual depth. I imagine this thirst
started back in March, with the onset of the pandemic, and has only gotten
worse with each passing month of social isolation. And now, you are ready to
drink deeply from the well.
But before we quench our thirst, we need to decide:
How are we going to be with one another?
This is the question at the heart of every community
built on covenant. And the only way to answer it is to meet each other where we
are, and listen deeply. Deep listening is how we will know one another, and how
we will know what we need our community to be.
Once we agree about how we are going to be with one
another, once we covenant to be in relationship, and to accept and affirm each
other, then we’ve created a space where we can trust and be vulnerable. And this
is how we engage, connect, and go deeper. This is how we quench our thirst.
If I were to lift this up in the spirit of prayer, it
would sound like this:
May we continue to be the loving, caring community
that we already are.