by Kathy McGowan, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life Staff
“I am only one
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.“
---Edward Everett Hale, 1822 – 1909
As I flew over the rocky mountains on my way to our annual General Assembly in Portland, I was in total awe of the the beauty of this country. I felt multiple things. I was grateful for the opportunity to view this magnificent land from the air. I know this is something that so many of our citizens will never see. I was thankful that I am a citizen of this country due to no effort on my part. I was born here and, therefore, get to enjoy the privileges and freedoms that go along with that random occurrence. Mostly I had the feeling of how small and insignificant I am in comparison to these majestic beauties. I really felt that in the large scheme of things I have no real rights or significance. It was one of those “once in a lifetime” moments where I felt all alone and extremely connected at the same time.
It is in these paradoxical moments that I draw on my Unitarian Universalist faith the most. I have learned that we can hold two conflicting concepts without going into a spiritual tailspin. My religion allows me to find my own way through these times. I can do my searching in community and in that, I find a balm to calm my soul. I am not alone.
As we gathered in Portland among 5,000 of our Unitarian Universalist community, I had the common GA emotion of happiness to see familiar faces and smiling Unitarian Universalist strangers. I always feel joy in singing our Unitarian Universalist songs with so many others. And yet while I was feeling these pleasant emotions I was also had feelings of frustration and anger. We often seem to be spending time on the same issues as we have for years and not feeling enough urgency about issues of our current time. I was sitting in the giant hall surrounded by my people when across my phone came the news of black churches in the south being burned. Why were we not talking about that? Where among the 5,000 was the outrage and pain that I was feeling? I, once again, felt small and insignificant but this time without the feeling of connection.
The very next morning I awoke to the news regarding the decision by the Supreme Court to declare same sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Talk about an emotional rollercoaster! Once again my eyes were filled with tears, but this time, not of sadness and despair, but of joy, relief, and pride. Our UUA president said from the stage of the general assembly that he knew that this decision was made possible in great part because of the work of UUs over the years. WE had made a difference.
So where does all of that leave us? I am left knowing that even though we are a small denomination we are important. And yet, we cannot change the world by ourselves. I know that we, as a people, would sometimes rather be right than be effective. We must let go of our hubris in order to make the world a better place.
We must work for more love in the world. The world needs more of our Unitarian Universalist values. We must be willing to work with partners that do not think like us to bring about valuable change. As Cornell West said during the Ware lecture in Portland Saturday night, “Justice is what love looks like in public”.
For now, let us celebrate. Let us forge relationships with those that share our values. Let us listen to one another with loving hearts and open minds for there is more love to take into the world.