Crossing borders

Crossing borders

Our challenge is to learn to reach beyond the confines of our personal social and cultural experience.


For Unitarian Universalism to thrive in our time, I believe we need to do three things: get religion, grow leaders, and cross borders. In my last column I talked about what I mean by “get religion.” I said getting religion was a matter of taking ourselves seriously as a religious movement, of being faithful to what moves us most deeply and to what we hold sacred, and realizing that religion must be practiced in community with others.

The religious journey, as described in all the great religious traditions, is a journey of moving beyond the prison of the self. Spiritual development is about connecting with others and with the world. We begin with love for another person, then move to loving those around us; eventually we extend that compassion to all humanity. We begin with an experience of creation as beautiful and awesome; eventually we come to experience ourselves as one with the cosmos.

We UUs often lament that, despite our advocacy of multiculturalism and antiracism, ours remains a faith that is largely middle class and Eurocentric. Our world, meanwhile, is rapidly becoming more diverse. In the United States people of European descent will be in the minority in a generation or so.

Our challenge is to learn to reach beyond the confines of our personal social and cultural experience. This is what I mean by learning to “cross borders.” We particularly need to learn to cross the borders of race, culture, and social class.

I think of my own border crossings. I think of going to college and meeting people from different social worlds. I recall living in Canada, Spain, and Peru. I remember speaking with a deported child in Nogales, Mexico. All these experiences changed me.

We need to understand that learning to cross borders is a spiritual practice. Like any spiritual practice, crossing the borders of class and ethnicity requires discipline. It helps to do it with other people. And, like any good spiritual practice, it takes time. No one enters into a meditation practice with the expectation of achieving the highest level of enlightenment in a week or a month. Neither do we transcend race, culture, and class in a weekend workshop.

How shall we proceed? As with any spiritual discipline, we begin where we are. We create time and space and commit ourselves to our practice. We open ourselves to change.

Here are some keys to success I know are essential:

Experience is critical. I can read about the Grand Canyon. I can look at photographs. I can talk to people who have been there. There is no substitute, however, for being there—for standing awestruck at the rim and for descending the steep trail into the depths. Similarly, we have to experience cultures and people.

Active is better than passive. Traveling to Peru as a tourist is very different from living and working in Peru with Peruvians. We must find ways of engaging with others, of being partners.

Do it together. I took a couple of trips to Guatemala with small groups from the congregation I served as minister. The experience was transformational and made far more powerful because it was shared.

Begin at home. There are plenty of borders to cross right where we are. Form relationships with groups in your own community. Your congregation is probably already doing this. Involve more people.

Ultimately, crossing borders is about learning to be fully alive and fully aware. Crossing borders is an essential part of our religious life together. Join hands with good friends, and let’s be on our way. We have spiritual borders to cross.

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