If we are not acting fearlessly for human dignity, compassion, justice, and peace, then we are failing to live our mission.
© 2012 moorsky/istock
Like many, for me the end of the year is an opportunity to look back as well as set an intention for the year to come. This year, the intention I am setting is to welcome all that is—to make room in my spirit for tension, heartbreak, challenge, and uncertainty without turning away; to stay with it and be present, listening for what it has to teach.
We live in a tumultuous time of struggle that is literally life and death for many people. This forces us to question the way we have done things and how it has brought us here. In this challenging time, what “to do” is not always clear. We can’t always right the things that have been broken. Tension, divisiveness, and the complexity of multiple experiences is real.
Within this, there is a spiritual challenge: to practice being fully present, to take in the tumult, the pain, the anger, the discomfort—ours and others—without turning away, without placating or denying, but instead holding the complexity and allowing it to deepen our compassion and help guide how we act.
Over this past year, I have named that this is no time for a casual faith and no time to go it alone. In the coming year, I will be focused on mission, because mission is where these two things meet. The opposite of a casual faith is a deep sense of purpose that recognizes how much our faith matters. And when we are called by a bold mission, we realize we can’t do it alone.
Could there be a powerful and simple anchor for Unitarian Universalists, a clear articulation of our calling in this time? I am reminded of a T-shirt I saw at General Assembly a few years ago. It read simply “Love the Hell Out of This World.” The phrase came from the Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford.
Our Universalist ancestors didn’t believe in hell, except for the ones we create here in this life. What would it mean to show up in the places where hell, where suffering and violence, persecution and inhumanity, prevail and to bring an active, powerful form of love that affirms dignity, liberation, and peace? It would mean leaving the confines of privilege to show up in solidarity, engaging and being in the struggle with those most directly impacted by injustice. It means siding with the national prisoners strike, with refugees and children criminalized and jailed, it means ending police violence, it means showing up against anti‑Muslim and antisemitic policies and rhetoric, and it means showing up with our sisters in the streets and in the voting booths to recognize the dignity and integrity of women’s lives, bodies, and choices.
Answering this deeper call of our theology and mission is the quality that ensures our congregations and communities are not mere social clubs but real agents of moral and spiritual change.
All religious communities are unavoidably a part of the status quo. We are ancient institutions, with special privilege in the community and tax-protected status. However, if we are not also acting fearlessly for human dignity, compassion, justice, and peace, then we are failing to live our mission. “Love the Hell Out of This World”—that says it pretty well about how we are called theologically and faithfully to be in the world.
Imagine what might be unleashed or transformed if each of us in our congregations asked, “How are we loving the hell out of the world?” How does this mission call us to re-think the ways we have been living, investing, and working for our values in the world?
At the UUA I am inspired by the multiple ways I see our congregations and Association leaning into mission and choosing to side with love. Just one example is the Promise and the Practice of our Faith campaign for Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU). We have already raised $4 million toward the $5.3 million goal! Thank you to every congregation and individual that has given generously to this campaign. You inspire me! There is still time to be a part of this campaign, and matching gifts are available for individuals and congregational giving. This campaign is one more stone laid on the path toward beloved community and restoration, just one example of what is possible when mission leads us.
May we welcome the new year more prepared to love the hell out of the world each day.
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The Rev. Dr. 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.
Catharsis ≠ progress
I worry that we will fall victim to the progressive habit of declaring victory too early.
We progressives are prone to believing progress is a lot easier than it is.