Afflicted or Comfortable? Yes.

BLM & UU, part 3

Comfort the Afflicted, Afflict the Comfortable

It has been said that the job of a congregation – and of its minister – is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. When I heard that in divinity school, I thought: "Great! That’s what I’ll do. When I’m a minister, I’ll find out who is afflicted, and comfort them. And I’ll find out who is comfortable and afflict them."

It didn’t take me long to realize that there is no easy way to divide people into the afflicted and the comfortable. The truth is, we’re all afflicted – and we’re all comfortable. We’re afflicted with stress or shame or anguish or loneliness or depression or insecurity or various physical ailments. We’re afflicted with unfulfilled yearnings and undefined anxieties. We all could use some comforting.

And at the same time, we’re all kinda comfortable. We’ve got houses, clothes, food, and we’re sometimes a little complacent. We allow ourselves to ignore other people’s pain – or our own.

Sometimes we find our comfort being challenged, and that’s a little uncomfortable. A faith institution that doesn't occasionally make you uncomfortable isn't doing its job. A certain amount of discomfort is what prods us to grow.

And here’s the amazing magic of faith community: the very thing that afflicts us in our comfort is also the thing that comforts us in our affliction. Are we finding that life is getting narrow and fearful? Are we scared of people’s judgments, or reactivity -- or of our own? That’s an affliction. Finding the courage to risk stepping outside our norm on behalf of better treatment for all our neighbors is the balm for that affliction. At the same time, it is also the antidote to our comfortable complacency.

The third part of our mission statement turns out to also be the first part. Engaging together in service to transform ourselves and our world turns out to also nurture each other on our spiritual journeys. Standing together to build wholeness in our world builds wholeness in ourselves. That’s the Unitarian Universalist way.

Engaging the world around us -- living our faith in our actions -- is a core aspect of what Unitarian Universalism has been for the last century. UU congregations stood up for civil rights. UU congregations stood up to oppose the Vietnam War. UU congregations stood up for reproductive rights. UU congregations stood up for same-sex marriage and LGBT rights. In every case, those congregations also had some members who were uncomfortable about those stands. But we lived our faith and helped bring justice, peace, and healing to our nation – and thereby to ourselves.

Of course, just to clarify, a vote by the congregation to say that the congregation takes a stand on an issue of social advocacy does not require that the members individually take that stand. We don’t do that – that’s NOT the Unitarian Universalist way.

And now UU congregations are standing up for the Black Lives Matter movement. We’re doing it because entering the public sphere as a voice for peace and justice is what we do. It’s our way. It’s how we heal our world and at the same time nurture our spirits.

Why now? Because it really matters now. Some sort of tipping point was reached when Trayvon Martin’s murder in Florida in 2012 was followed two-and-a-half years later by Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson. And then Eric Garner. And Freddie Gray, and Walter Scott, and Sandra Bland and . . . well, the list is too long. Finally, the conscience of a nation stirred. It was long overdue, but it has begun at last.

We stand at the brink of bringing about some real change. Indeed, already, changes have begun. Unitarian Universalists, small in numbers though we are, have a role to play in making sure our country doesn’t go back to sleep -- in making sure our country follows through with much more meaningful progress toward treating all lives as mattering.

Do we agree with everything that every supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement says or does? No. I don’t. Very few of us would. Whoever your favorite candidate for President is, you don’t agree with everything said by every one of that candidate’s supporters. But you agree with the basic principles and agenda of your favorite candidate, and that’s why you support her or him.

Indeed, try this thought experiment. Imagine a list of 50 or so things that most Unitarian Universalists agree with – let’s say each item on the list is agreed with by 90 percent of Unitarian Universalists: general UU-ish statements about religion, karma, God, responsibility, ethics, values, hope, peace, justice. Don’t you think that we would find that very few of us agreed with everything on that list? The vast majority of UUs don’t agree with everything that the vast majority of UUs agree with. But we agree to stand in solidarity together, despite our disagreements. We can share our criticisms of each other, encourage one another to transcend any approaches or tactics that we see as ultimately counterproductive – and still we stand in solidarity together.

Across the country, Unitarian Universalists are not letting fear deter us. Who are we? We are a people of compassion, hearing and responding to the world’s pain. Who are we? We are a people of courage, praying, with Tagore, not to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them. What is this thing that we do here, this thing called Unitarian Universalism? We stand on the side of love – and on the side of justice, which is what love looks like in public.


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This is part 3 of 3 of "BLM & UU"
See also
Part 1: UUs and BlackLivesMatter
Part 2: White Supremacy is a Spiritual Wound

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