One of the things about undergoing a process of change is that it often brings with it a significant period of ambiguity and uncertainty. There are some changes that as fast as flipping a light switch – boom! we’ve made the transition from A to B, light to dark, hot to cold. When we make the decision to create more significant changes in our lives though, things are rarely as clear cut. Usually leaving one job for a new one involves some uncertainty along the way. Entering into a relationship, either at the beginning or as far as marriage, is rarely an unambiguous process. Nor is leaving one, whether a break-up early on, or a divorce down the road. Choosing to go to college, or back to school for a graduate degree, or deciding to have children – these are all usually considered positive things, but even they involve uncertainty and change along the way for many of us. So, it should be come as no surprise that for us as a church, when we began a process of looking at the possibility of change by adding a second service, that it brought up experiences and feelings of uncertainty and ambiguity for many of us. And just like when we experience uncertainty and ambiguity in our lives, especially when it relates to change – it can be uncomfortable, scary, and anxiety-producing. While there are some folks who truly do enjoy periods of uncertainty and change in general, more often many of
If asked to answer the question “Who am I?” – how would you answer? No context, no setting, no defined purpose for asking, just the question: who am I? If you haven’t already, stop reading and take a moment to think about it, right now. What would your answer be? Who are you?
* * * * *Identity is such a tricky thing – it’s fluid, and our answers to the question of who we are both change and don’t change over time. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have answered “minister,” but now that’s a central part of who I am. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have answered “husband,” but my marriage is now a central part of my life. Three years and one week ago, I wouldn’t have answer “father,” but now parenting is a central focus of my day-to-day activities. On the other-hand, male, straight, white, and Unitarian Universalist are all identities that have remained a constant throughout my life. Even those though – my understanding of them has changed over time. For example, I have a much more nuanced understanding of my whiteness now than I did ten years ago. And the way that I am Unitarian Universalist in the world has evolved considerably across my lifespan. So even my relatively “fixed” identities have changed. And yet, despite all this change, I still feel like the same me at my core. A changed me, but me nonetheless. And, there are other ways to define ourselves still. When
One of the main tenets of Humanism is that we need to be focused on the here and now. Humanists have long argued that there is no heaven and hell or afterlife, and more importantly, given that that’s the case, that we need to spend our lives making the world a better place right now, instead of trying taking action trying to earn merit for our post-death destination. Though both sides come at it from opposite ends of the spectrum, this perspective actually meshes beautifully with our Universalist heritage. The core tenet of Universalism is that God loves everyone, and specifically back in the day when belief in heaven and hell were the norm, that that meant God sent everyone to heaven. So the Universalists came to a very similar conclusion – since we were all going to be saved, the focus can shift from trying to earn a good afterlife, to living a good life now. Humanism, our theme for this month of March, takes things a step further, of course, and places responsibility for creating the best possible here and now on us human beings. And that’s a pretty awesome responsibility – awesome responsibility, both in the sense of being amazing cool, and in the sense of being amazingly large and serious. Most of have probably seen the quote incorrectly attributed to Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Gandhi’s actual quote was a little bit more subtle and nuanced than that, but we like
There’s been a trend in much of United States more liberal or “emotionally-tuned” in culture to lift up and celebrate the importance of feelings. The standard line goes something like this: “There’s no such thing as an invalid feeling. All feelings are valid.” The reason for this pushback, of course, is that there has been a tendency in our culture to invalidate people’s feelings, to ignore them, pretend they aren’t there, or actively require people to invalidate them. And the pushback is good; invalidating and ignoring our feelings is absolutely unhealthy. Feeling, naming, and being present to our feelings, and the having the ability and a safe space to share our feelings with others – all of these are an important part of a healthy human experience. I’m not so sure about the second part of that statement though, “All feelings are valid.” I’m not so sure, for example, that shame is a “valid” feeling – at least not one that should be honored and accepted just the way it is. Shame, of course, is feeling bad about who are as a human being, that there is something wrong with the essence of you. Guilt on the other hand is feeling bad about a behavior or a choice we’ve made. It’s the difference between saying to a misbehaving canine, “bad dog” and “no, don’t do that.” Or in human terms, between saying “I’m stupid, I’m such an idiot,” versus “I made a mistake.” Shame addresses the essence of who we are,
Belonging means to be accepted some place for who you are, whereas fitting in means you have to change who you are in some way to be accepted. In a sense then, belonging is the feeling we get when we are the recipients of unconditional love – when we are loved just for who we are. That belonging feeling can also happen under other conditions though, such as when we’re in a gathering or community that values us for just the way we are. Whether it’s through unconditional love, an accepting community or some other way, feeling like we belong is a powerful experience. My hometown Unitarian Universalist congregation was probably the place where I felt like I most belonged when I was a kid. I would roam the halls before and after the service, playing with my church best friend, the Director of Religious Education’s daughter, Megan McDonald. Church was a safe place, a place where I could be myself, a place where I was unconditionally loved and supported by an amazing community. Which is a good thing, because I sure didn’t feel like I belonged at school. And I even had a hard time feeling like I belonged as a young adult, after college. I had a great group of friends when I lived in Philadelphia, and I certainly belonged with them to a large degree. And I was a member of and belonged to the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia when I lived there. But the place where
The aftermath of November 8th is still ringing through our lives – it’s still ringing through my heart – and so I sit here wondering: how did this happen? What, dear god, is going happen to people of color, Muslims, Jews, women, the LGBTQ community, and so many other minority populations now that we've effectively given permission to hate groups to be part of the mainstream? And what do we do now? While we'll be analyzing and debating the "how?' question for a while, the "what do we need to do now?" question is in some ways easier, at least in the big picture. While specifics have yet to come into focus, the overall needed response is crystal clear: we must fight. We must fight for what is right. We must fight to protect the rights and safety of all in our country. We must fight for justice. Now, if you’re aware that our theme for September is Peace, and that I’m supposedly writing this article on that topic, you might be wondering how fighting is compatible with peace. For that, we’ll turn to the great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who wrote (in our hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, #584):
We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. There are some things in our social system to which all of us ought to be maladjusted. Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear, only love
As we prepare to spend time with friends, family and loved ones over the long weekend, this brief reflection from Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. David Schwartz reminds us to ask - who is freedom for? During this season of gratitude and thanksgiving, his words of wisdom about the nature of the Thanksgiving holiday offer some powerful "food for thought," if you would. Enjoy your weekend!
"Who Is Freedom For?" by Rev. David SchwartzWe gather at Thanksgiving, in some sense, to retell the creation myth of our country. In this myth is our very best and our very worst: a boldness; a care for the common good; a wish to say we before I. Yet from even before the first Thanksgiving feast, it’s a story of theft and violence, and a ruthlessly narrow definition of who “we” really means. The colonists had come seeking freedom, and in that we identify with them. But it was freedom only for themselves. In every generation forward, from that day to this, the people living in this land that became America struggled always with the question: Who is freedom for? Black persons were taken from their native Africa to become slaves. Immigration laws were written explicitly to prohibit non-Western Europeans. Women could not vote even a century ago. In many states right now, gays and lesbians can be legally fired or evicted merely for not being straight. Refugees knock and, in response, voices call to bar the door. The Universalist minister Clarence Skinner wrote, a century ago: "The fight for freedom is never
The experiment is simple. Leave a five year-old in a room with a marshmallow sitting on the table in front of him or her, with the following instructions: “I’m going to leave the room for fifteen minutes. If you eat the marshmallow while I’m gone, that’s the only marshmallow you’ll get. If you can wait the whole fifteen minutes, and don’t eat the marshmallow until I get back, you’ll get a second marshmallow.” While this sounds quaint, and perhaps even a little trite, this experiment was indeed run in a highly scientific manner by Stanford professor Walter Mischel in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The focus of the experiment, of course, is to measure individual children’s ability to employ delayed gratification, and the long-term follow up was to see how predictive their behavior was of long-term success in life. The results were startling. A person’s five year-old response to the experiment, the level of delayed gratification they were able to demonstrate even back then, was a higher predictor of future success in life than any other measure, including IQ tests, SAT test, and anything else. For all the fancy results and analysis those and other tests provide us, they are less predictive of success in life than whether your five year-old self can successfully delay gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow. This experiment, and others like it, speak to the power and importance of emotional intelligence. For a very long time in our country, our focus was strictly intellectual
An English teacher of mine, at some point in my schooling, asked our class a great question – “what is the definition of irony?” She asked this in follow up after checking to see if we all understood what irony was, and the whole class had nodded yes, we did understand. And yet when she posed this question, none of us could come up with a definition of irony in the moment. We could name ironic moments or experiences, but we couldn’t actually come up with a workable definition. Her point to us was that we don’t truly know what a word means until we can articulate its definition. And I’ll admit, I still can’t define irony off the top of my head – I had to go look its meaning up again just now. My teacher’s question though returned to me as I’ve been thinking about this October’s theme of Humility – what does humility actually mean? I’m not the only one to struggle with this question. In the introduction to his book, Humility: The Quite Virtue, Everett L. Worthington, Jr. notes: “writing a book on humility is fraught with difficulties… I cannot tell you a definitive description of humility revealed by science… I can only invite you to consider people you know. Who are your heroes of humility?” He suggests that instead of a definition, the best way to understand humility is to list the characteristics of people you know who you think are humble. Figuring it was worth a
A good friend of mine got engaged to his girlfriend about ten years ago– both of them were wonderful people, and they were a great match. About six months after their engagement though, he began to exhibit a bizarre string of behaviors that were totally out of character for him. He began to do and say disrespectful – and sometimes outright mean – things to his fiancé. His fiancé didn’t get it, and we his friends didn’t get it either. We all knew this guy to be a thoughtful considerate person, and he clearly loved his fiancé. So why was he all of a sudden acting like such a jerk? When some of us tried to talk to him about it, he couldn’t explain it or understand it either. He told us he still loved his fiancé, that he was excited to marry her, he just kept having these inexplicable bursts of anger at her. Finally, thankfully, one of our more insightful friends figured out that his acting out started right after the couple had begun intensive work on planning their wedding, and a lightbulb went off. This realization allowed our friend to become aware of and name some of the deep fears and anxieties he had about marriage. Once he was able to be with and feel those feelings, the destructive and sabotaging behaviors melted away, and he and his fiancé were able to move forward with the wedding planning in a way that was meaningful to them both. Their