Presence. Show up. As the saying goes, showing up is 80 percent of life. Show up on Sunday morning, and show up at your Journey Group. That’s the invitation to be present.
Participation. Participate in the life of the congregation. As a member, you get a vote in congregational decision making. Once or twice a year we have congregational meetings at which the budget is to be approved, officers are elected, bylaws amended, resolutions adopted. Ministers are called – and may be dismissed – by vote of the congregation. We also have a variety of committees, and there’s teaching RE, hosting coffee hour, or helping with set up and clean up before and after events. There are "Days in Place" Saturdays, and an annual auction dinner, and brunches and concerts. There’s a lot to participate it. In particular, my hope is that every member will be on one of our seven social justice teams. Participate on the team at whatever level feels right for you, but at least be on the roster so you can be called if the team needs as much help as possible on some specific project it’s working on. Participate.
The third P is pledge. Pledge is a promise to contribute an amount that you decide to the congregation each year. We need to know what we can expect so we can budget for the year accordingly. Generosity is a key spiritual practice. I recommend giving away 10 percent of what you take in. And for the congregation, the guideline is 2 or 3 percent of your Adjusted Gross Income. The invitation to pledge is an invitation to do this thing that not only reflects the importance of the congregation to you, but also helps cause it to be important.
And then there’s practice. Signing our membership book puts you officially on record as a Unitarian Universalist. The invitation to practice is the invitation to act like it. Throughout your life, practice Unitarian Universalism.
If you were accused of being a Unitarian Universalist, would there be enough evidence for a conviction? Of course, once you join, there’s the evidence of your name in the book. There’s the evidence of your presence here, your participation, and pledge. But if somehow all of that were inadmissible, would there still be evidence for a conviction? This is the part of membership that is least visible to your fellow members – though it is the part that is most visible to everyone else in your life.
How do you live in a way that affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person? A way that demonstrates justice, equity, and compassion? Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth? A free and responsible search for truth and meaning? Commitment to democratic decision-making and rights of conscience? How does the goal of world community of peace, liberty, and justice for all inform what you do? In what daily ways do you demonstrably respect the interdependent web of existence?
I want today to celebrate the ways we practice – practice our faith, practice our values, live the Unitarian Universalist way – in particular the ways we do it that I am not likely to see, the ways outside of this building, and outside of any specific program of our congregation. Some of it, over the last three years, a number of you have shared with me some of what you do – and I wanted to let that be shared more widely.
So I asked for input on how you carry out this fourth P, practice.
Many of you noticed that practice is not separate from the other three Ps. Presence is a practice, a discipline. Participation is a practice. Pledging is a spiritual practice, a discipline that deepens and enriches us. Some people mentioned lovely ways they participate:
“I practice being a UU in my journey group.”Several of us mentioned the practice of teaching:
“I practice being a UU when I teach at CUUC. I teach OWL because as Lara Campbell used to say -- I can save souls when I arm young people with the right knowledge to have loving and safe relationships (which may include sex).”And:
"I teach in RE. What joy the children bring me."And:
“As a Sunday school teacher, I joyfully embrace the "interconnected web of all existence," as I delight in the openness, trust and wisdom of these little ones who are beginning their exploration of our UU values.”Beyond the ways we practice here, we practice our faith by undertaking spiritual practices, exercise, and keeping channels of creativity:
“I practice being a UU as a yoga practitioner. I practice being a UU when I compose.”Our choice of career, choosing a vocation deliberately with an intention that work life reflect our values turns our careers into faith practice:
“I practice UU in the career I've carved out for myself working to inspire others to cultivate empathy and compassion.”We practice our faith through the compassion of not endangering others – by, for example texting while driving:
“I practice, by making the smart and kind choice to be safe on the road by resisting the pull of the cell phone while driving. Phones are incredible and wonderful tools, but too often their presence in our lives removes us from the current moment and maims our ability to be maintain mindfulness.”Some of you noticed that you were practicing Unitarian Universalism before you knew you were – but that your UU faith life has influenced the evolution of your practice:
“Generally speaking, UU principles are in harmony with many principles that I wasn't even aware that I had. But the UU principles are an important validation and encourage me to continue and expand my activities. It's hard to separate which came first and which principles have been newly adapted, though I suspect some of that is evolving with me. For example, I had reduced my consumption of meat before attending UU. At first for humane reasons, but have since found strong evidence to support that it's a healthier way to eat, and now I'm vegan at home and when ordering at restaurants. This is supported by the 7th principle: Respect for the interdependent web of existence, of which we all are a part.”Practice calls us to our higher selves, but a little bit of not being our higher selves keeps us from getting too holy. As the previous member adds:
“Unfortunately I may stray when meat is offered to me as a guest, but it is a tiny fraction of what I normally consume.”Many of us practice our faith by reducing our environmental impact:
“My concern for environmental issues is likewise supported by the 7th principle. I'm more mindful about using less, reusing, and recycling. I shop for environmentally friendly alternatives to many products that I buy. And my diet choices are better for the environment as well.”Some of us practice by marching in demonstrations and public protest. Others of us don’t do that:
“I don't go to protests, but the principles are an inspiration.”We also practice our faith through less strident civic engagement:
“I spoke up this week. I dragged myself to a school budget meeting.”Or encouraging the engagement of others:
"I make it a point to vote in every election & I encourage my fellow UUs to vote. I've been known to send emails to people in my town when there's an election for a contested school board election if I think they'd like my opinion."And:
“I practice being a UU when I stand up for others, when I am kind, when I am proud of how I behaved.”And:
"I try to be nice to everyone - even the telemarketers who call me. They must have a difficult job."And:
“Primarily I live in relationship with others. It is very important to me to demonstrate my care and concern for others who need support whether they have mental or physical health issues, grieving, homeless, unemployed. I have had friends who have had all of these life problems at some point. I cannot see a homeless person reaching into the trash at Grand Central and not do something about it. I believe we are in this life to support each other, and sometimes that's all we have. I believe it is my responsibility to help others in need whether its by making donations to non-profits or other, and I believe it is everyone's responsibility to do what they can for others. I believe that I need to speak up always in regards to racism, and to do whatever I can to work towards an unjust world. I believe that animals have equal rights to humans, and should be treated with dignity and love.”Some of us practice by volunteering, by acts of compassion to both human and nonhuman animals:
“I volunteer in a public school, mentoring a first and second grader.”Another member wrote:
“The Community Center of Northern Westchester meets many otherwise unmet needs of our local community. They provide food, clothing, and classes and workshops on everything from getting a job to basic healthcare. My family and I have supported this Community Center in significant ways over the past 10 years. Our children have organized food drives; we have helped stock the shelves of the food panty; every piece of clothing we outgrow gets a second life at the center; we donate money and routinely buy extra food when food shopping to drop off at the center. We actually see the impact we have as we warmly greet the people who are “shopping” when we are there. We are living our principles of the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, compassion in human relations, and respect for the interdependent web of all existence.”Another member wrote:
“My volunteer activities embody my UU practice - in fact, I chose these particular activities at least in part because they offer a rich opportunity to live my beliefs. First, I volunteer one day a week as a pro bono attorney with Pace Women's Justice Center Family Court Legal Program, where I assist victims of domestic violence obtain Orders of Protection from the Court. This work offers me an opportunity to do far more than simply gather the facts and write the petition, but rather to meaningfully engage with women who are suffering from various forms of physical and psychological abuse in their intimate relationships. Over and over, I articulate and affirm the "inherent worth and dignity" of these women, and work with law students to help them see and empathize with their clients as more than the mere embodiment of the legal issues they are learning to identify. As a trustee of the [the town in which I live], I seek to "use the democratic process" in service of social justice (such as my commitment to Fair and Affordable housing). Inevitably, various individuals and interest groups have different stakes in the outcome of decisions the board makes, and I actively try to both model best fair practice and engage the community in considering issues on the level of "justice, equity and compassion. Ultimately, for me, these UU values are expressed in E.M. Forster's command to "only connect," and I strive each day to truly see each person I encounter, whether in the grocery store or on the subway or at the gala. I don't always succeed - and so coming to services on Sunday is essential to my own reconnection, ensuring that I have the strength to try again in the coming days.”One member wrote:
“Daily I feed the last of three feral cats that I spayed and neutered 11 years ago. [One of them] comes when called.”Another member shared:
“It's not something I do every day, but among the most rewarding experiences I've had at the animal rescue facility where I volunteer is when I can help a confused and frightened cat believe that there are people who care about it.”And:
"I feed the birds & enjoy their beauty."We practice our faith through neighborliness – at home and at work:
“Taking care of neighbors home and pet while they are away.”And:
“Being copresident of my neighborhood association. Planning and responding to needs. Working with others.”And:
“Remembering the religious holidays of all of my coworkers.”Another member also spoke of
“Respecting other faiths and supporting their efforts to create a loving & caring community.”Respecting, honoring, listening are ways we practice. One member wrote:
“How do I exhibit my Unitarian beliefs? Two words: Validation and Dignity. Like Steven Covey's famous mantra 'Seek first to understand, then be understood.' Everyone deserves to have their voice heard. Everyone deserves respect. Everyone deserves to know that their thoughts and feelings are being validated. It's not about agreeing, it's about listening and truly understanding the other person.”So we practice our faith by honoring other faiths, other viewpoints. We also practice our faith by telling others about our views:
“By being active politically and speaking out on social media and to legislators on issues of social justice and environmental stewardship. By letting friends and neighbors know that I am a Unitarian and what that means. By inviting people I know to participate in our church events. By joining when possible public activities like the Climate Change March.”We practice our faith through the joyful obligations of home and family:
“Loving and enjoying [a significant other]. Caring for our home and our life together.”And:
“I practice being a UU as a parent, when my partner and I raise these three world citizens -- who question and provoke the world.”We also practice our faith when we continue with obligations beyond when we thought we had discharged them:
“Opening the house to my challenging and under-employed adult child.”We practice our faith commitment to a free and responsible search for truth and meaning by continuing to learn and learn:
“I’m reading The Spirit Level, about income inequality – recommended by the Social Justice Team.”We practice our faith by giving ourselves reminders:
“Reminding myself that I’m privileged, have a quick and impatient temperament, and I need to practice compassion and patience and charitable giving. CUUC reminds me of a good way to live.”Those who have walked this Unitarian Universalist path for some time find that “practice” becomes everything we do:
“Walking through the doors of CUUC week in and week out, I realize UU values have become part of every breath I take and the life the breath provides me with is to be aware on a daily basis, of how I can be more kind, more respectful and more just to the world.”We come together here to nurture our spirits and help heal our world. We have ways we get together to do those things, and I'm all about getting together to do what we do. But let me never forget that the members of this congregation also do Unitarian Universalism on their own. We come together not only to do things together, but for growth and restoration so that we can live our faith out in a largely non-UU world for another week. Thank you to all of you who wrote in to share what you do, and to all of you who are doing equally fantastic things that I still don't know about. I am humbled and proud to be a part of such people as you.