It’s going to take all of us to move our world, and our faith, forward in the ways of truth, compassion, and justice.
“Hope comes not from some optimistic dream,” writes UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray, “but with a clear-eyed view of the truth, a community of people to sustain us, and the knowledge that we have choices about how we will live . . ., what we will teach our children, and how we will show up for and with each other.” (© 2016 Christopher L. Walton)
In early January, UUA staff from all over the country gathered in Boston for what is called the Big Alignment Meeting. It was wonderful to have almost all of the over 200 UUA staff together to reflect on our shared work and purpose. As we gathered for morning worship, the chapel at the UUA was overflowing. Our singing filled that space with joy, beauty, and power.
As part of worship, I told a story from an unknown author, called “The Touchstone.” In the story, a man learns of a stone that when it comes in contact with any metal will turn the metal to pure gold. The stone is said to be found on a stone-covered beach, and while it will look ordinary, when you pick it up, it will feel warm in your hand. The man immediately goes in search of the stone. Each day, he spends the entire day picking up stones, and when they are cold, he throws them into the sea (so as not to pick up the same stone twice). Hour after hour, day after day, month after month, he picks up stones and throws them into the sea. But one day, in the afternoon—after hours of throwing stones—he picks up a stone, it feels warm in his hand, and before he can stop himself, he throws it into the sea. So caught up in routine and habit, when he finally comes across what he has been looking for, he throws it away.
This can happen in our lives. We can become so caught up in routine that we forget what is most important. Have you gotten lost in habit? Without mindfulness and intention, we can lose sight of our core values, our deepest commitments, even our larger purpose.
Dictionary.com’s word of the year for 2017 was complicit. The perpetuation of systemic racism, sexism, militarism, and the exploitation of people and the planet for profit is a long-embedded system that all Americans and Unitarian Universalists have been a part of, consciously and unconsciously. Neither the benefits nor the harm and costs have been equally distributed.
This is why direct conversations about the systems and culture of white supremacy and patriarchy continue to be so critical. We are invited to see the ways that monolithic cultural norms have held back Unitarian Universalism’s liberating message. As James Baldwin reminds us, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Indeed, one of the most frequent critiques of the institutional church is that it is no longer relevant to the real issues facing society, humanity, and the planet. Today, in the face of major social and environmental upheavals, irrelevance is a form of complicity.
Relevance begins with honesty and clarity. It is the work of unpacking and telling the truth, a core value of Unitarian Universalism.
There are two reasons our touchstone-seeker failed in his quest. The reason given by the story is a lack of mindfulness to what he was really doing—to the real work. The other reason that I have come to understand is that he tried to do it alone.
No great task is ever accomplished alone. In this moment where creativity, ingenuity, fortitude, and resiliency are so needed, it’s going to take all of us to move our world, and our faith, forward in the ways of truth, compassion, and justice.
Hope comes not from some optimistic dream, but with a clear-eyed view of the truth, a community of people to sustain us, and the knowledge that we have choices about how we will live, what we will value, what we will name, what we will teach our children, and how we will show up for and with each other. Our values and commitments matter, and when we can join together to live them out, we nurture hope and we build the power needed for change. I feel gratitude when I see UUs showing up powerfully and giving generously to their communities and our larger Association.
As you are receiving this issue of UU World, the registration for the 2018 General Assembly is opening. This General Assembly, with the theme “All Are Called,” will be an opportunity to collectively discern how we are called as a movement in this time. It will also be a time to join in spirit-sustaining worship and song as a community, to nurture joy and spiritual depth.
I hope to see you at General Assembly in Kansas City! There are ways to be present both in person and online, and I welcome you in whatever way you can be there to be a part of this time for renewal, discernment, and joyful, relevant, faithful community!
Yours in love, Susan
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The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray is the ninth president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). She was elected in June 2017 to a six-year term after serving congregations in Phoenix, Arizona; Youngstown, Ohio; and Nashville, Tennessee. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Brian Frederick-Gray, and their son.