June 6, 2012
I remember the last quarter of the 20th century, when it seemed that one of the aims of the religious education programs in many of our Unitarian Universalist congregations was to help our children and youth identify as “different.” I think this was an out-growth of the struggles of many of their parents, who had found Unitarian Universalism as a result of deep-seated feelings of “not belonging” in more traditional religions.
Whether overtly or covertly, we shared the message that we “are not like them.”
I have been thinking about this as I contemplate my life over a span of about 20 days. Last night I attended the consecration of St. Mary Star of the Sea Roman Catholic church here in Key West as a Basilica. This Sunday I will be worshipping with a Unitarian Universalist congregation which is engaging in the future-shaping process of moving toward their own permanent home. Beginning Monday I will be spending five days with about four thousand Black Church pastors exploring preaching and worship in that tradition. On June 17, I will preach the Annual Pilgrimage Sermon at our oldest Unitarian church west of the Hudson River, the 1803 congregation in Barneveld, New York.
On each of these occasions, I will be reminded of voices from afar. A letter from the Pope in Rome; a bequest from a loving member; the remembered words of liberation arising from slavery; a note from Thomas Jefferson wishing he could some day travel to visit that new congregation in upstate New York.
Each of those memorialized voices spoke the same message: hold to your vision.
Yes, while the vision may be different on each of these occasions, what connects them is the understanding that only those groups, only those communities, only those faiths which have vision will survive and thrive. The classic words of Proverbs 29 remind us: “Without vision, the people perish.”
But, vision carries with it the imperative of inclusion: from the many individual strands of understanding must come some hope for a more inclusive, more universal understanding.
It is time for our Religious Education to evolve past its focus on an identity of difference, and become a herald to the whole world: “we can all make it if we focus on connections, not differences.”
If we can learn to be more concerned with what we do believe than what we don’t, if we can learn to be more interested in the values and vision we share than any gulfs that separate us, if we can learn to be more inspired by what is yet to be than absorbed by what has been, ours can become a growing point of faith not just for us already here, but for the many others who are looking for a message of hope wider than the current politics and religions of division and separation.