Realizing Who We Are

“The real community..., in the midst of all the self-contradictory simulacra of community, is the community of those who seek the truth, of the potential knowers...of all...to the extent they desire to know. But in fact, this includes only a few, the true friends, as Plato was to Aristotle at the very moment they were disagreeing about the nature of the good...They were absolutely one soul as they looked at the problem. This, according to Plato, is the only real friendship, the only real common good. It is here that the contact people so desperately seek is to be found...This is the meaning of the riddle of the improbable philosopher-kings. They have a true community that is exemplary for all other communities.”
- Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, 1987

I’m not sure I entirely agree with Allan Bloom’s take on what real community is. He seems to think it’s all about the relationship philosophers have with each other. He was criticized for being elitist – and he is. Still, in a certain way, he’s onto something. Even where I disagree, I see that he’s pointing toward something important.

Let’s unpack the passage a little bit. The real community is
“is the community those who seek the truth, of the potential knowers . . . of all . . . to the extent they desire to know.”
OK. Know what? If we follow the classical allusions to Plato and Aristotle back to Plato’s mentor and hero, Socrates, we get an answer to that question. Socrates said, “Know thyself.” The real community, then, is the community of those who seek self-awareness. Real belonging is about realizing who we are.

Notice that double meaning of “realize.” “Realize” means, "to become aware of." It also means, "to make real" – as when we realize our hopes, or realize a profit. We become who we are, we make ourselves real, in the very process of becoming aware of who we are. That process is membership: real membership in real community.

Plato and Aristotle are perhaps as good a paradigm of that as any, “at the very moment they were disagreeing about the nature of the good,” for that phrase points to a balance of kindred-spiritedness together with diversity of perspective and loving challenge to each other.

It’s what we regularly and continually do in congregational life.

As the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Commission on Appraisal said in their report a few years ago, Belonging: The Meaning of Membership:
“Membership questions are much broader than whom we count for what purposes, and what criteria we establish for legal membership in bylaws. Membership is also, or even more importantly, about how we help the people who come to Unitarian Universalism live out their faith within our congregations.”
Live out their faith. Become who they are.
“Membership is a journey, both for the individual and the congregation. It is not just a technical or legal state, nor only a numerical measurement. It is a process that engages human beings and takes us from a starting place to a new place.”
This is what the commitments of membership are all about and what they are for.

We commit to affirm and promote inherent worth and dignity of all; justice, equity, and compassion; acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth; a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; democracy and rights of conscience; world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; respect for the interdependent web – because such commitment represents a path.

These are not rules designed to keep the order of a static institution. They are principles to urge us forward. Wherever you are on your journey, you are welcome here – that we may explore together what these ideals mean for our lives.

Living by our principles is not about did you or did you not adhere to something. It’s about: What’s next? How can we walk together toward a deeper and fuller realization? Wherever you are, wherever I am, at any given time, that's where we are. How can we walk from there together on the path of deepening into these principles – the path of developing our skills, by practicing, over and over, in infinite varieties of situation, for living from a grounding in these principles?

Good questions! Glad you asked.

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This is part 2 of 4 of "The Meaning of Membership"
Next: Part 3: "Process of Enlarging Understanding"
Beginning: Part 1: "The Super Bowl and Simulacra of Community"

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