If there is one reality that has been affirmed on my budding ministerial journey, it is that people are messy. And I do not just mean in the physical, dirty-dishes-in-the-sink, underwear-left-on-the-bathroom-floor sense. I am talking about the emotional, psychological, and spiritual messiness that makes us the relationally complicated beings that we are. I am talking about the parts of our selves that behave in ways that are not always purely driven by love, that aspect of our nature that is bound to make mistakes and even act in ways that are isolating or hurtful. But contrary to the negative judgment that is often assumed when we say the word “messy,” I believe that the messiness of people is an essential piece of the puzzle that is our miraculous nature. It is part of what makes us so beautiful. This messiness, this glorious combination of drives, thoughts, and behaviors that sometimes contradict one another, is not something to be resolved. Our so-called imperfections are not imperfections at all. They are what make us whole. The way I see it, our messiness is our fullness. So if we are to truly love one another, if we strive to accept each other fully and hope to embrace our authentic selves, than we have to love our messiness.
Loving our messiness is not an easy task. To love our messiness, we have to accept the parts of ourselves and others that appear to violate our belief in the inherent good of life and creation. We have to be willing to love the parts of ourselves and others that don’t live up to our expectations and ideals. And the first step to achieving this love is to acknowledge that these parts exist – acknowledge that they exist not just in some people, but in every single one of us. One of my favorite examples of the fullness that is our “imperfection” comes from Christian scripture. In Mark 11:12-14, Jesus, for lack of a better word, flips out because of a tree. In a moment of hunger, he seeks out food from a distant fig tree, only to find that it did not have any fruit because it was the wrong season. And so what does this spiritually enlightened source of wisdom and teacher of love do? He curses the tree! Some might say that such a response is not something that you would expect from a prophet or minister, but I would disagree. In that moment, there was a beautiful expression of the fullness of his humanity. Jesus did not show love in that exchange, he did not show patience, he did not even show forgiveness…the tree ends up dying in the story! And you know what? I kind of love that, because it means if Jesus can have his less than stellar moments, than so can every one of us. We remain loved and beautiful even when we curse a tree for being a tree.
I imagine that this story about Jesus and the fig tree does not impact everyone in the same way. So I invite us to consider what it means to love our messiness, our fullness, under the light of our Unitarian Universalist tradition. What does it mean when we seek to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person? What does it mean when we seek justice, equity and compassion in human relations? How do we demonstrate acceptance of one another and encourage spiritual growth in our congregations? All of these principles speak of a process that emphasizes our roots in universal love. All of these principles require a committed effort on our part to be with one another, to affirm one another, even in those moments when it would be “cleaner” to turn away. Do we only accept those parts of ourselves that fit the “good UU” box? Do we only love people when they act in ways that build up? When we turn away from or deny the challenging aspects of our humanity, we deny the power of our Unitarian Universalist tradition. We remember the inherent worth and dignity of all because we know that there will be moments when people will make mistakes, sometimes painful ones. We are called to affirm justice, equity, and compassion in all relations because we know that those who act in hurtful ways are likely experiencing significant pain, even if they do not realize it themselves. We demonstrate acceptance and encourage spiritual growth because we know that it is in our nature to make mistakes, but we will only try again if we are held in love by those around us. Our Unitarian Universalist tradition teaches us that we have an innate capacity for good and that we are built for love. But it also teaches us that we have our less than stellar qualities, that we will think and do things that do not always match that potential. I do not believe that it is a fatalist view of humanity to say that such moments are inevitable in our relationships. Rather, it is a compassionate and hopeful understanding of what we are capable of loving in one another. For when we show care and acceptance for the fullness of humanity, we live up to our potential for good. When we embrace the messiness, we live up to our potential for love.
*This post is part of a larger (in-process) reflection for future sermons. Insight welcome and appreciated!