Being responsive to shifts and changes—in justice work and beyond—is hard and crucial for Unitarian Universalists.
I keep the ringer on, so in the grocery store I’ll hear my cell phone. At least, it sounds like my phone. As I begin to root around in my bag, I notice four or five other shoppers on high alert, locating their own phones. We’ve all taken the easy way out, opting to settle for the phone’s default ring tone.
So impulsively, standing in place, I change all the sounds my phone makes. No trumpet fanfares, mind you, or ducks quacking or chortling babies, and definitely not the sound of a toilet flushing. Just some modest twinkles, birdsong chirps, and chimes to alert me to texts, AirDrops, reminders, and all that. For the main ringtone I click on “classic,” the familiar sound of an old-fashioned landline. An actual ring. I didn’t give my new adjustments another thought.
Oddly, over the next few days I didn’t seem to receive any texts or calls. As I moved along the sidewalk, I thought I heard the faint sound of old-fashioned phones ringing in nearby offices, birdsong chirps overhead, and chimes, but nothing that announced to my brain, “Jane! It’s your phone!” I had not overhauled my own responses, so I missed all my calls.
A trivial example, to be sure, but changing our responses is, for most of us, a big project. Within Unitarian Universalism, some of us have changed our response to the term “white supremacy” from “nothing to do with me” to “I have to look at this and take action.” Along with composer Jason Shelton, those of us who were not awake to the exclusionary, ableist aspect of his hymn’s title/lyric “Standing on the Side of Love,” are modifying our response from “Count me in” to “Let’s sing ‘Answering the Call of Love.’” Once upon a time, when we Unitarian Universalists added a Source to our bylaws that began, “Words and deeds of prophetic women and men,” we applauded the novelty of naming women before men. But our reaction is different today. “Words and deeds of prophetic people” is more inclusive of all genders.
And these are only examples from our little pond!
The world arena and our nation’s political situation offer opportunities to alter our responses every single day. No more complacency. What we used to trust we trust no longer; offices we used to respect we respect no longer; trajectories toward the good we assume no longer. These days there’s not much we can take for granted, and for hope we have to dig deep.
The need to change my responses can feel overwhelming—maybe that’s your feeling too. So much of it is just keeping up, necessary, but not important. We change from reaching for a folded map to depending on our GPS. When the house gets cold, I boost the heat with my phone, not the thermostat that’s still on the wall. And I’m still adjusting to those new ringtones.
To be sure, the little changes snap at our heels. But especially in these times we need to focus on what really matters. It demands our unwavering attention to respond according to our Unitarian Universalist values in new and more powerful ways. Our values are clearly threatened. Equality. A green Earth. Justice. Peace. Democracy. Compassion. And all the rest. Clear, changed responses: therein lies our hope.
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The Rev. Dr. Jane Rzepka served as senior minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship from 1999 to 2010. She is the author of A Small Heaven: Meditations and co-author of Thematic Preaching: An Introduction. Her latest book is From Zip Lines to Hosaphones: Dispatches from the Search for Truth and Meaning (Skinner House, 2011).