Monday, April 15, 2013

On Being a Bold Unitarian Universalist by Kathy McGowan

I have often been heard saying “I want us to be bold Unitarian Universalists!” I say this because I believe that the world needs us and we should be out there letting the world know who we are and what we value.

It is one thing to be in our congregations and feeling like we have found “our people” but it is entirely another to be living our faith every day in the world and letting people know that what helps us to face the often harsh environment around us is our Unitarian Universalist faith.

Let’s not be afraid to wrestle with our values like “the inherent worth and dignity of all.”  The more we try to live our values, the more they will be challenged, and that is OK.  I think we are up for the challenge, and that the struggle is what helps us to be better.  We can fail 1,000 times and can come back again.  As the 13th century poet, Rumi said,

“Come, come whoever you are
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.”

We come to church to be comforted and to be challenged.  We must do both within our walls so that we can go back out into the world ready to do battle with injustice, cruelty and hate.  We can do battle because we have struggled ourselves.  We have known what it is like to be challenged and confused.  We have also known the power of coming together in a circle of love, where differences can be acknowledged but not used to define who we are. 

We can have the courage to be bold Unitarian Universalists in the world once we have faced our fears in our congregations.  We can let love be our guide to help us confront our challenges.  We can learn how to stay at the table when differences appear insurmountable.  We can keep hope alive for ourselves and others as we walk together on this one fantastic journey.

I think it is fitting to end this posting about bold Unitarian Universalists with this from Universalist minister Olympia Brown.

“Stand by this faith. Work for it and sacrifice for it. There is nothing in all the world so important as to be loyal to this faith which has placed before us the loftiest ideals, which has comforted us in sorrow, strengthened us for noble duty and made the world beautiful. Do not demand immediate results but rejoice that we are worthy to be entrusted with this great message, that you are strong enough to work for a great true principle without counting the cost. Go on finding ever new applications of these truths and new enjoyments in their contemplation, always trusting in the one God which ever lives and loves.”

In faith and love,

Kathy Alden McGowan

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Art of Promising by Rev. Kenn Hurto

"From Promise to Commitment"
2013 UUA General Assembly Theme

Many Unitarian Universalist congregations are crafting so-called “Covenants of Right Relations” that attempt to articulate how — at our best — we most want to be with one another. This arises because in today’s multi-cultural world, it is often unclear what constitutes good behavior in groups. For instance:

• Among some people, looking another in the eye as you speak shows respect and trustworthiness; in other groups, to do so is impolite, even aggressively hostile.
• I come from the Midwest where raising your hand to speak at a group meeting is the “right” thing to do; elsewhere, that is seen as a silly encumbrance to the free exchange of ideas — interrupting, talking over one another is just fine; to me, that’s rude.

Those are comparatively easy illustrations. But what do we do when someone in our congregation behaves in ways that leave many emotionally unsafe — such as:

• Belligerently interrupting a sermon?
• Threatening members of the congregation with violence (yes, it happens)?
• Hugging that is, well, more than hugging?
• Gossiping maliciously or sending e-mail “flames?”

How do we stay in community honoring the dignity of each person when some inadvertently or even willfully cross a line into rudeness or a bullying posture? Are there no limits to our tolerance of “odd ducks,” as one member said to me?

A carefully crafted Covenant can help guide us during such times. My dear colleague, Eunice Benton, former Mid-South District Executive, calls these efforts an attempt to describe “good manners.” An effective covenant not only names what we can expect of each other, it also gives us permission and guidance when one person’s or group’s demands endanger the community.

The word covenant appears in English in the 14th century, derived from the Latin convenire, meaning to agree to come together. Thus, a covenant is simply an agreement, or promise to be together. It’s about our intentions and promises of how to be together. More nuanced meaning suggests that it is an unenforceable, but binding commitment to do or not do certain things together. The marriage vow, I promise my faithfulness, is the most familiar covenant. The bond of friendship is another. A covenant makes explicit what is normally implicit in a relationship.

Historically, this notion is central to the Free Church. We solemnly bind ourselves — not to agree and enforce a creed — but to be on a journey, seeking an ever better understanding of life’s truths while working for love and justice. A favorite covenant of mine comes from our congregation in Salem, MA (still using a modernized variant of this 1629 phrasing) which promises “to walke together in all God’s waies, according as he is pleased to reveale himself to us in his Bless word of truth.”

Next summer in Louisville, our UUA General Assembly will focus on From Promise to Commitment: “Promises call us into relationship. The experience of making, breaking and remaking promises is the reality of our lived faith. We will gather in Louisville to examine and renew our covenant to our faith, one another, our congregations and the larger world.”

Covenanting or promise making is easy to say but hard to live. We have yet much to learn. This is good work for us to do, for, as Dr. King said, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”

Come to GA (details here: . Let’s get clear about the promises we make to one another in a beloved community. We will transform ourselves, our congregations, and possibly our world.

I’ll see you there. Kenn