I am terrified of heights. I believe that if the universe wanted me to go beyond the 5 feet, 6 inches that it made me, than I would be taller. I cling for dear life when I’m on a ladder, I’ve never climbed a rock wall, and when I “lean over the edge in wonder,” it’s usually for a limited time only.
I just signed up to rappel off of a building.
Many of us know the old adage, “courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it,” which has been attributed to the late Nelson Mandela, a man of tremendous courage. But what is it that helps us triumph over our fears, not simply of heights, but of difference, change, or the unknown in our future?
For me, that answer is faith. It sounds clichéd, but it is absolutely true. My faith is one of action, not stagnation. It moves me to engage in experiences and relationships that lead to my breaking open, not my sealing shut. My faith is one that knows my greatest growth occurs in the moments when there is the risk of change, not the safety of familiarity. As a Unitarian Universalist, I belong to a living tradition that has continued to evolve because of courageous leaders who faced their fears and worked on the side of universal justice and radical love.
Leaders like Olympia Brown, a Universalist minister and the first woman ordained by full denominational authority, who advocated for women’s right to pursue equal higher education opportunities. Or Fannie Barrier Williams, a Unitarian writer and musician, who fought for the rights and dignity of African American women during the height of the Jim Crow era. Leaders like James Reeb, who died following an attack by white segregationists while he was marching for civil rights in Selma, Alabama, or the countless present-day Unitarian Universalists who engage in civil disobedience to protest unjust immigration, minimum wage, health care, fracking, and voting laws. Without their acts of courage, we would not understand the impressive power of love.
So what does our living tradition of bravery have anything to do with my fear of heights? I know that my rappelling off of a building won’t bring an end to injustice, but it is a symbol of my commitment to live out a courageous faith. That is why I plan to sign up for the Brave Souls raffle at this year’s General Assembly in Providence, RI. In entering this raffle, I hope to be one of the many UUs eager to show the world the “audacity of our faith and the power of our generosity.” But my courage can be made stronger with your help.
To enter the raffle, I am making a pledge to the “Rev. Terry Sweetser Fund For Stewardship,” which will support UUA’s efforts to cultivate healthy stewardship within our tradition. And I invite you to do the same (don’t worry, you don’t have to jump off of the Rhode Island Convention Center). You can show your courageous faith by making a donation to the fund, or by making another Brave Pledge, like volunteering extra time for a local social justice project, or brewing coffee at home and donating your weekly Caffeination budget to our weekly offertory. Check out the UUA’s Brave Souls site to learn more about where to make your Brave Pledges and/or donations to the Rev. Terry Sweetser Fund. Join me in the movement to show how in the face of fear, Unitarian Universalists respond with audacious love.