(Text for those who like to read!)
Life is a blessing. Part of the joy of being human is being able to at least partially appreciate the miraculous beauty that is inherent in our world, and the holiness found in all of creation. Part of the joy of being human is having the ability to relate in such nuanced ways, especially to other people. But with that joyous ability comes what is perhaps the most challenging part of being human – staying in healthy relationship. With that in mind, I want to share some thoughts that I feel are important to our congregation as we move forward through new phases of being.
As Unitarian Universalists, we are called to engage in, as best we can, practices that create a sustainable environment and healthy ongoing relationships within our world. As a religious community that intentionally comes together, we strive to do the same within our church. Given my position, not only on the board but as a seminarian preparing for ministry, I have found myself inevitably experiencing events that have taken place over the past several months through the lens of a budding (or on some days, floundering) theologian and aspiring minster. As a member of the board, it has been an honor and a blessing to serve with others in roles where we are constantly given new opportunities to exercise our potential for respect and love, and to be forgiving enough with ourselves and others when we feel we have fallen short. This love and forgiveness is what makes religious communities thrive in the face of challenges and conflict, and allows for relationships to grow stronger even when our disagreements are significant or based in opposing ideas. Lay leader or not, as Unitarian Universalists we must remember in those moments why we are together, and why each of us comes to the table with such deep convictions - Community. Our tradition may celebrate the individual journey, but that journey takes place within a larger context, a context that our faith calls us to recognize and honor as we move forward together.
As members and friends of a Unitarian Universalist congregation, we have dedicated ourselves to the preservation and growth of our church community, and with that comes the beautiful necessity of respecting all of its family members – from the people in the pews, to the people in the pulpit, to the people who handle the day-to-day financial, educational, programmatic, and custodial tasks that keep our community functioning. It is a commitment that we have all made because we believe in the good and worth of humanity and creation, and because we share a vision of this congregation's role in building a just, equitable, and beautiful world. That being said...we are human. And while humans are all beautiful, we are also prone to developing individual perspectives and opinions on the best ways in which to achieve this vision, and even its characteristics. When these opinions conflict, arguments occur, one person's actions may violate another's expectations, feelings are hurt, accusations are made, adversarial interactions occur...you get the point. It can get ugly. All is not lost, however, if we remember that our humanity includes the amazing ability to be in relationship, and come to understand that our best selves are the selves that are in right relationship. With right relationship, we can recognize that the value we attribute to our "self" cannot be separated from the value we attribute to those around us, because we are part of an interdependent web of existence. This web includes our ideas, perspectives, and practices, which we are called to honor with understanding and love. Of course, in good Unitarian Universalist fashion, that in no way means that we have to conform to one ideal way of being. Far from it! Yet, we must remember that while our Unitarian Universalist tradition is founded in actions of debate and dissent, it is also grounded in a commitment to understanding and universal community.
So what is the point? I initially wrote this message for other lay leaders, but its truth rings true for all Unitarian Universalists. My intention with this far-too-long post is to remind us to continue to strive for respect and understanding in our communication with all members of our community – lay leader, parishioner, staff, or visitor. Why is it so important for us to have this kind of loving communication? Because when we communicate with one another we build connections. And the way in which we communicate has the potential to create and honor beauty or tear down others and cause pain. So when we communicate with each other, no matter the medium, it is important that we consider what purpose our communication is intended to serve, as well as what unintended consequences might occur when viewed through others' differing perspectives. We may have good intentions when we attempt to connect with others, but we are admittedly limited by our own perspective, and may not be able to fully grasp how others may view what we have said or done. Similarly, our interpretation of another's intent may not be an accurate understanding of their actual aims, so before we accuse, let us first make efforts to clarify with love. When we communicate with others, let us also strive to remember to consider the tone and atmosphere that our words create. Part of what makes a religious community come together is an openness to vulnerability, and a willingness to find strength in our shared experience. As a result, trust will be given…and unfortunately, trust will be violated. We are human, and we will sometimes fail. But we cannot let the fear or experience of failure prevent us from continuing to strive for beautiful connections. So when we communicate, are our words and actions presented with the intent of restoring trust, or do they have the potential to foster more suspicion and undermine attempts to rebuild relationships? And finally, let us consider the means through which our words are delivered. What is the best method we can utilize to ensure that all relationships and individuals are respected when we communicate with one another? How does the timing and audience of our message impact our ability to effectively live in right relationship with others, so that we can help build a religious community and world grounded in love and respect?
I end this note with an excerpt from a chapter that has been a source of inspiration as of late:
"Right relations in church life bank on individuals who are willing to resolve conflicts through compromise, not through bullying- or even convincing another of the rightness of our position. Creative compromises don't always mean giving in to the other side, but they do mean giving up being right all the time. Each person promises to contribute something for the benefit of the greater institution, instead of bolstering his/her own opinion or ego." (From "Practice Respect" in Tom Owen-Towle's Growing a Beloved Community: Twelve Hallmarks of a Healthy Congregation).
Each and every member of this community is a beautiful and miraculous expression of the goodness of humanity. Yes, we may sometimes struggle to live up to our potential, but part of why we come together is to continue to practice love and respect, and to be okay with ourselves when we don’t quite get there. We need not be perfect, and I’m thrilled to tell you, that should never be the goal. What we strive for is not to do everything right…it is to be in right relationship, and do as much as we can in love.
In faith and love,