More Hope, Vigor, and Strength, part 2

Our faith has never been about individual spiritual growth. Salvation, we know, having heard it in Unitarian Universalist theology and having learned it from each other, is collective, not individual. Ain’t nobody saved until we all saved. Ain’t nobody free until we all free. ‘Cause there ain’t nobody – apart from everybody.

One example of what Unitarian Universalist faith accomplishes in this world was last year’s nationwide effort among Unitarian Universalists called “UU the Vote.” We built voter engagement, voter registration, voter turnout. It was more than our denomination had ever tackled before. And it was massive, and it was awesome. Folks were ready to give generously of their time and resources because our values of justice, compassion, and democratic process – and people’s lives – were on the line and on the ballot. We UUs invested dozens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of hours and over a million dollars to vote love over division in last November’s election. The campaign reached over 3 million potential voters. We UUs were likely the largest, most organized faith-based pro-democracy effort in 2020.

One example from here at Community UU is our Hope Kitchen project. We continue, week after week, to bring the power of imagination, generosity, commitment, and collective action to meet a vital need.

Receiving inspiration and spiritual sustenance and giving of our energies for justice and compassion for others are not two different things. Those who think of spirituality as individual, as distinct from embodying compassion and justice for others will never have the inspiration, the spiritual sustenance, the joy from tending to where there is hurt.

Spirituality without actively caring for others is thin and wan. Caring for others that isn’t caring for all others is a constrained and limited joy. Caring for all others that isn’t actively engaged in building the structures of equality, respect, and fairness fails to be spiritually satisfying.

Spirituality without activism isn’t spirituality, but only a self-centered embryo of what it could grow into. Activism without spirituality isn’t activism, but only noise and ego projection.

To build peace within, build justice without. To build justice without, build peace within. It’s another positive feedback loop – or, essentially, the same positive feedback loop as gratitude and generosity.

That’s the Unitarian theology that brings joy and healing to ourselves and to our world. That’s the Unitarian Universalist vibrancy – the hope, the vigor, and the strength – that grows our souls and that our world so needs. As we find ourselves loved into being, we must work together to love our world into the fullness of its being.

Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, recounts a conversation she had with the scholar Gary Michael Tartakov. “This is a civilization searching for its humanity,” Tartakov told Wilkerson. “It dehumanized others to build its civilization. Now it needs to find its own.” How do we do that? How do we, as a civilization, come into our humanity? How does a whole country come into the fullness of its being?


As you and I are loved into being by love around us, a nation may be loved into being by love within it. Dr. Martin Luther King spoke often of love, meaning not a fond sentimentality or romantic attachment – nothing precious or maudlin or fey.

Love, he said,
“means understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, even for one’s enemies.”
Dr. King told us
"Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”
And again he said:
"At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.”
And he said:
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
He believed, he said,
“that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
He said,
“This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.”
And thus he saw and reminded us:
“Life's most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
There is no joy in retreating from reality, withdrawing, turning away from the systems that do harm. At the founding and foundation of our country are forces of domination, forces that said people identified as black, as indigenous, as people of color didn’t matter. It was and is a system of double exclusion, for the people identified as white have also been excluded – excluded from responsibility and accountability, which are as necessary to beloved community as respect and justice are.

There is no joy in blithe aloofness from reality. We fool ourselves when we think paying attention will only make us feel bad – just as we fool ourselves when we think keeping five dollars will make us happier than spending it on someone else. All the joy there is comes through compassion – from orienting toward the hurt and engaging in the healing.

This Unitarian Universalist congregation isn’t the only community with this power – this power that loves you into being and helps heal our world. I don’t claim that ours is the only beloved community, only that it is ours. This – this building that we long to gather in again, this place of music and song, friendship and support, inspiration and encouragement – happens to be our place. It's not a static place, but a path -- the path we walk together, stepping where we could not step alone: stepping into more hope, vigor, and strength.

Unitarian Universalist president Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray said in a message she had for us this week:
“When we give – boldly, generously, audaciously -- of our financial resources as we are able, we make our values and our ministry manifest in the world. When we give generously of our hearts and our care, and our love, to our children and families, elders and adults, young adults, and youth, we change lives. We save lives. And when we dream big – as leaders and staff – about the impact we are called to make in the wider world, lives are changed. The material conditions of our communities can chage. And we are changed” --
-- progressively loved, and loving, into being.

May it be so, and Amen.

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