Jan. 12, 2020.
As those of you who read my beginning-of-the-year blog to the congregation know – and I know at least four or five of you did because you told me you did – I have made some pledges this year – not resolutions – but pledges. These pledges don’t necessarily express who I always am, but instead they are more aspirational of who I would like to be in the coming year. My apologies about repeating them for those of you who may have committed them to memory, but let me review them for a moment. In my blog I pledged to:
- Not stand idly by while my Jewish or other traditionally marginalized siblings are threatened.
- Continue to support the awareness and dismantling of the systems of white supremacy in which we swim and that threaten us all.
- Look for and hopefully find the divinity in those with whom I agree and disagree.
- Seek beauty.
- Find joy.
- Practice gratitude.
- Express love.
- Reflect more.
- Reach out.
- Walk toward trouble.
- Examine my certainties.
- Practice opening both my mind and heart.
- Ask myself more often: “What would Mr. Rogers do or say?”
- Work feverishly to help make this a better world knowing that I can only do what I can do, and that I must do it deeply connected to others and that I will also need to step out and step aside regularly to stay healthy and functional.
- And finally, in the words of Rev. Mary Harrington – as the spiritual practice it has become – I will continue to ask “What is the most loving thing I can do right now?”
So I share this with you again because, as a public figure, I have now publicly stated who I say I want to be in this coming year.
I could have said, so as to be clear, that I pledge to get frustrated, angry and outraged every time I see the news. Or I could have said, I pledge to be totally intolerant of anyone who doesn’t think exactly the way that I do about … fill in the blank. Then, if I exhibited that behavior in front of you, or anyone for that matter, you could look at me and say, yup, he is being exactly who he said he was going to be. I would have lived into exactly what I pledged for that year.
Here is the thing. As a practicing Unitarian Universalist, as a minister, as what I hope to be – a decent and loving human – I do not want to say that I will be angry, frustrated, outraged and intolerant as a way of life. I admit that will happen in these days, on occasion, but that is not what I aspire to be.
And, I want to make it clear, I am not saying that I want to be, nor do I think anyone views me as some ‘60s stereotype of a flower-bearing love child saying “peace baby” and embracing a completely zen life path. Come on, talk about stereotypes … I am a fairly assertive Jewish kid from Chicago; no one has ever called me zen. Putting all that aside, the point I am trying to make is that I do aspire to live in ways that I think will help me support the values, faith and desires that I have in and for the world. And, I always feel that if I don’t live them, I am not contributing to the world as I hope it can be. So saying that I pledge to not stand idly by while my Jewish or other traditionally marginalized siblings are threatened, or looking for and hopefully finding the divinity in those with whom I agree and disagree, or practicing gratitude or examining my certainties or asking myself more often: “What would Mr. Rogers do or say?” and so on, is who I am saying I really would like to be.
Which brings us back to this month’s worship theme of integrity and my question, “Are we being who we say we are?” I ask that question to all of us. I ask that of us personally and I ask that of us as Unitarian Universalists. If I were to ask you the same question about what you are pledging for this year, and it was going to be posted, emailed and/or snail mailed to everyone you know, what would you pledge for this year? And let’s say at some point toward the end of the year, a committee of your friends, family, acquaintances and/or co-workers would be assembled to evaluate and assess whether you had been who you said you were going to be when you made your pledges at the beginning of the year, what would their findings be? Remember, no one is expecting a perfect score. As today’s reading from Rev. Rosemary says, “In this moment of worship we call to mind those times of failure and regret common to all of us. We remember first, in silence, those times when we have failed to do all that we meant to do, or through our actions failed to be all we were meant to be.”
There is no perfection. At some point, we will all fail to be who we aspire to be. I will tell you, I was watching the news the other day, Rev. Alice was not home and the string of expletives that emerged from somewhere deep inside made me think if she were home she might have called an exorcist.
And as Rev. Rosemary also writes, “We now recall our moments of integrity, those times we have lived into our deepest values, and acted as the human beings we always dreamed of being.” I say with gratitude, being your minister, I have many opportunities to practice living my deepest values and acting to be the human that I have always dreamed of being,” which brings deep meaning to my life and for which I am incredibly grateful.
And finally she writes, “We choose at this moment to lay down the burden of our shortcomings and grasp the courage to begin anew. Together, we affirm our capacity for goodness and grace, for freedom and purpose and joy. We are not trapped in our past, but freed by creation to live and grow today.”
She says this because in this life, we have the opportunity to be born again and again and again and again. I truly believe there is not one soul who isn’t capable of laying down the burden of our shortcomings and grasping the courage to begin anew. Not all will. For some it will be almost impossible; for others it is a day-by-day practice, but I do believe that we in general, as individuals, have this ability to work on being who we say we are trying to be.
Now what about doing the same process with your interpretation of what it means to be a practicing Unitarian Universalism. This can at times actually be a bit harder because as we have discussed many times, this is a non-dogmatic faith. No one signs the membership book and then gets the list of the 10 things you need to do every day to be exactly who you say you are going to be as a Unitarian Universalist. In many ways, we form who we say we are through our history, both actual and how our theology has evolved. Other contributing factors include our founding documents and our association and congregational policies, practices and cultures.
As I have discussed, we currently seem to be in a period of evolution around specific interpretations of what it means to practice being a Unitarian Universalist. But today I am not talking about the specifics. What I’m talking about is this: Let’s say at some point toward the end of the year when a committee of your friends, family, acquaintances and/or co-workers, for those of you who have them, and for arguments sake, let’s say maybe your minister – would be assembled to evaluate and assess whether you had been who you said you would be as a Unitarian Universalist. What would the findings be?
And what would that look like if someone did that with regard to all of us as a congregation? Would there be general agreement on a list of how we should be together in our policy making? In our treatment of the staff? What about the visitors who come through our doors looking for a spiritual home? Would they say we are being who we say we are?
So although we may not all agree, I am going to take a crack and present a list for demonstration purposes – a list that an end-of-the-year evaluation committee might use as guidance in case we get evaluated. Remember, this is for demonstration purposes only, it is non-dogmatic and non-binding and represents the opinions of this minister only. It will not be comprehensive in terms of what everyone in this room may want to see on it. There might be things with which not all agree.In other words, a congregational vote will not be taken at this time.
We the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax pledge to:
- Do our best to do what we can in our limited way to help support taking actions that will contribute to saving the planet.
- Spend our time and energy, as much as we can, to contribute to community efforts to ease the suffering that comes from hunger and homelessness and other by-products of economic inequality.
- Be a place where we practice fun, joy and gratitude.
- Welcome those needing a place for deep reflection and connection while supporting the shared values we profess and are stated and implied in our seven principles (and perhaps currently being proposed as an eighth principle).
- Do the work, as much as we can, in ourselves, with each other and with the world, to break down systems that privilege some over others and serve to tear the fabric of human love and connection, including working to center voices more traditionally located on the margins of society.
- Continue to educate our children in order to support them in being kind, decent and justice-seeking humans with the goal of having engaged and loving communities.
- Love, comfort and support all going through life’s difficult transitions.
- In 2020, be part of the religious voices that must be on the forefront of what is happening in this country and in the world.
- Be here to love and support each other because there is so much to do.
To that end, UUCF must also pledge to be a place of worship that provides inspiration, respite, grounding and sustenance as we all find our way through these incredibly challenging times.
Is this everything? No. Would this survive a congregational vote, without wordsmithing? Never. Are these some aspirations I would have as your minister for general agreement on what it means for us to spend this year living as who we say we are? I would hope so.
So, here is my challenge, whether you just reflect on it or actually sit down and put pen to paper, so to speak. What are your pledges for this year as individuals and as Unitarian Universalists understanding there will be times of failure and regret when we have failed to do all that we meant to do, or our actions failed to be all we were meant to be. What are your pledges knowing that there will be moments of integrity, those times we have lived into our deepest values and acted as the human beings we always dreamed of being.
And of course, what can our pledges be – understanding there will be moments where we must lay down the burden of our shortcomings and grasp the courage to begin anew as we affirm our capacity for goodness and grace, for freedom and purpose and joy.
Pledging to be who we say we are will bring forth both the joys and challenges of living one’s faith. Pledging to be who we say we are is part of the joys and challenges of being human. Pledging to be who we say we are is actually necessary for truly being who we say we are. Together, let us spend this year helping each other make, understand and live into our pledges, for that is truly what the world needs.