Unique, Just Like Everyone Else

Helen Pop
Sermon Date: 
Sun, 06/16/2013

Unique, Just Like Everyone Else by Helen Pop
A NOTE to newcomers and visitors before I begin:
We have freedom of the pulpit. Hear my words only as my particular viewpoint. I’m giving you a mirroring of what I see, but not “speaking down” from a high horse. I see, including me, the attitude of self-importance is NOT here in our Sugarloaf culture. We are NOT a self-satisfied elite who would sacrifice the common good to get what one can get for oneself, alone. However, I do see evidence that an impression of exceptionalism could be experienced here by a newcomer.
Megan gave me the title for my theme which is: Living out of our uniqueness … yes. Acting as if we are exceptional … no. Throughout history, so many great accomplishments can be attributed to both the Unitarian and Universalist religions. Throughout history, specific people have inspired us to contribute to valuable social change. I have been clinging to my notion of Unitarian exceptionalism my whole life, in order to feel more confident and full of myself. So, for me to talk about today’s topic of our exceptionalism has been a tough one to face. I’ve done that tough thinking, though, because I have to take my turn to complete Megan’s and my series (Show devil’s pitchfork. ) It’s our response to the article by Rev. Fredric Muir, “The End of iChurch: To build Beloved Community, Unitarian Universalism needs a new narrative.”
The first prong represents what Rev. Muir sees as the UU “refusal to acknowledge and treat our allergy to authority and power “. The second prong is for the problem with “pervasive commitment to individualism.” Today, I address the third prong that’s holding us back from changing our narrative and increasing our membership, “our notion of exceptionalism”. Fred Muir says, “We cling to a Unitarian Universalist exceptionalism that is often insulting to others and undermines our good news.” Our good news is how Sugarloaf is unique with special identifying qualities.
Those Sugarloaf identifying qualities match the UU values that give me my centering. They apply as my explanation of how I see Sugarloaf’s ability to form the new narrative Muir calls for all UU’s to make happen. There’s so much evidence we, here, have got what it takes to become more committed. The importance of this striving to focus more deliberately on living our mission statement (found in your order of service) lies in a fact I accept. To achieve being mission driven, would be contributing to the healthy evolution of our species, no less! Secondly, I accept he fact, there are developmental stages we, each, are naturally progressing through to become more mature. Here, I see it as the spiritual deepening of situational awareness, on a gut level, of the spirit of life surrounding and flowing through us constantly. Last fact, for me, personally, because I belong to this congregation, I am developing a healthy kind of loyalty as a UU. Finally, I’m dropping my childhood dependency on our religion as my cult in order to make myself feel greater. I am coming out of my tribal identity developmental stage of seeing my tribe of UU people as BETTER THAN those who are the OTHERS. In that vein, the OTHERS belong to tribes (or, in this case, religions) not as good as MINE. That false reasoning used to make me feel superior to those OTHERS (my immature developmental stage.).
One’s political party can give the same ego-feeding that can even reach to the level of foisting putdowns at the bad guys in the opposing party. I celebrate that I have grown into resisting being manipulated (especially by TV) into the attitude that’s now playing out in Capitol Hill’s extreme polarization between Democrats and Republicans. That shocking spectacle of US and THEM competition is quite a “blesson” (b-l-e-s-s-o-n) that teaches how not to identify with one’s political party. “Know that the ‘different person’ is one’s teacher”, said an unknown author.
“The “different” person is one’s teacher.” We’re living out of our uniqueness … yes. Acting as if we are exceptional… no. For me, all this growing into a mature state of spirituality is worth the effort, simply, because of the resulting inner reliability of being able to draw upon my sources of happiness and security and my growing ability to apply my inner strengths, more wisely with a new balance for living. More so, I believe I can, now, take part, meaningfully, in our evolutionary destiny. It would be fun to have congregational discussion to consider adding that goal to our mission statement. If you ask me, I am seeing us evolving into that kind of being alive together, anyway! (…contributing to evolution!)
A most precious quality for me here at Sugarloaf, is the encouragement I find that validates my steadfast belief in original goodness. It begins with our covenant. We’re living out of our covenantal uniqueness … yes. Also, there’s the value of egalitarianism, often an underlying UU motivation in our everyday decision making. It supports our religion’s ongoing social action trait. We UU’s became linked with this trait, for example, in the days of the Revolution. Then, it held true, consistently, as part of UU culture into present times. We courageously protest when people’s human rights and inherent worth and dignity are being denied. We, here, belong to this evolutionary flow of change for the better with our support for same sex marriage, the fight against the death penalty, plus much else that is carried out in our personal lives. On the first Sunday of the month we put cash into the collection baskets for a charitable contribution.
I see ample evidence that we believe that truth is not sealed and revelation is continuous. There is no one truth, but levels of truth. We have to go through the stages of awareness and understanding to exercise more purposeful living. The way we go about expressing these values is not the only path to take, religious and non-religious. However, our Sugarloaf way is a good fit for me to exert my positive energy.
In addition, I see our collective consciousness is rising in awareness of how our property is where life can do its work in a beneficent environment. All Earth’s life is interrelated. It’s feeling kinship beyond people. The last sentence of our mission statement says “We celebrate theological and cultural diversity and are united by our caring for humanity and Earth.” Yes, so far, we’re still here, protecting our 4 ½ acre slice of the biosphere. We still have the place to feel as Gus put it last Sunday, “the infinite nature of the natural world.”
This is where we can “stop the world and get off” to be in the moment. Our home spot gives people restorative peacefulness, a weekly place to recharge our positive energy, our place of permanence to reach out to include others. This comes out of the land’s gift of REAL TIME. Sugarloaf’s REAL TIME gives us a space to breathe deeply and feel the changes of the cycles of the seasons in a silence that’s rare these days. Many people feel like the weekdays are spent on a treadmill with its speed controlled by BULLY TIME. Clock Time/ Bully Time out there and Nature Time/Real Time here!
If we are committed to keeping our oasis or, simply, just to be on sustainable footing, we need to each, personally, find and include more newcomers. These new people need us, among other things, to wear our nametags, both in the yurt and at coffee hour. Please, get into the habit, if you haven’t already. …No nametag? John Laughlin takes care of that service.
We tried a Bring a Friend Sunday last year and I hope we do it again. If you can’t find a friend to introduce to Sugarloaf, see it as an IOU to volunteer. Laura Judy is the volunteer coordinator. See the back of your order of service for the contact information to reach both Laura and John. Now that I’m on the RE Committee, I’m going to explore the possibility of all RE participants having nametags, too.
In one’s newcomer search, it’s gratifying to find commonality with a new friend. If you’re in some non-verbal project alongside him or her or visiting a family to welcome them into your neighborhood, it’s easier for a more friendly connection to evolve. Sugarloaf’s uniqueness is the starting point for the invitation to visit us. However, we have to remember the blesson to not give the idea that our church is better than other churches. When approaching prospective Sunday visitors, I will communicate why Sugarloaf is the right fit for me and see if the friend is disposed to trying to find a match here, too.
If the person is a “none” (n-o-n-e) with no church, get across how we believe in expressing freedom of conscience. Individual value system autonomy in our diverse plurality is a defining feature of our kind of good news to share. This is the essence of having a creedless faith. I find here that we have the matrix for becoming inclusive in the deeper sense of truly building the kind of pluralism that goes beyond acceptance of theological diversity and individual choice of one’s path for finding one’s beliefs. It’s deeper than a diversity head-trip. Our kind of pluralism nurtures healthy individuality (not individualism.) I see us seeking the genuine level of what the UU author, Paul Rasor calls “plurality of BEING”.
I realize that, often, lots of groundwork needs to happen before that kind of talk can occur. It’s quite possible to not reach that level of exchange. We have to keep trying, though! I like what was quoted from Rev. Lynn Ungar’s UU World blog that was in our May 15th Weekly email. Rev. Ungar wrote, “You can reach out your hand past the edge of your own bubble of privacy to see if someone else wants to take it. You can, and you should. But then you need to pause to find out whether that person wants to reach out [his/her] hand in return. And if [his/her] response isn’t what you expected or hoped for, oh well. It isn’t about you. It just isn’t all about you.”
I recall Megan’s sermon in our pitchfork series about being a princess, the only one who really matters. “It just isn’t all about you.” When Megan addressed the second prong of the devil’s pitchfork, she spoke of the kind of individualism that makes things go amuck. An example is when a member’s purpose for joining Sugarloaf is just to have one’s personal needs met (like purchasing a commodity such as scheduling in the lifestyle improvement to be found at some gym.) This is an example of Rev. Muir’s iChurch that gets us into trouble. “Let’s recognize everyone’s special gift for the good of all” is what I remember Megan telling us. That carries with it a fire of commitment to the Sugarloaf covenant we hold in common including our new addition to promote growth of moral character. (That’s where Megan’s promoting our thinking of the “good of all” comes in.)
Yes, we have to know each of us is safe to be who one really is without trying to be the only one, like a princess. As a free-to-be-ourselves congregation, I see us seeking to relate to one another with mutual trust and support. To me that’s genuine plurality of belonging to a Beloved Community.
In the UU World article by Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, “We Must Change”, she writes, “We must admit that Unitarian Universalism has a specific, sometimes alienating culture, and we must change it. And we must grieve the loss of the familiar and gain some measure of courage to embrace the new.” Earlier, she tells the reader that she hopes people don’t join our movement to find others who, like them, choose not to own a TV since there’s nothing worth watching unless it’s PBS. I add the worry that some congregations have the expectation that we are all college educated. Rev. McNatt goes on with, “These changes are the work of the spirit. These things call us to be faithful to James Luther Adams’ observation that church is where we practice what it means to be human. We have a lot more humanity to learn about, a lot more practicing to do, with a lot more people than we are used to.” (End quote)
Paul Rasor in his article, “Can Unitarian Universalism Change?” writes, “Our challenge is to transform our pluralism of ideas into a pluralism of being.”… “But how do we do this? What theological resources do we have that might address these concerns and ground us on this journey?”… “Universalism’s core theological claim is that all humanity – indeed, all of creation – is ultimately united in a common destiny. [I would add “an evolutionary destiny”.] Historically, “Universalist theology [has] refused to divide the world into factions or to exclude anyone from its vision. It said we’re all in this together, and wherever we are headed, we will all share in it. (Remember Roy’s picture to represent all of us in the same boat?)
…“In this form of communal theology, [historically] the individual was removed from the religious equation.”… “This theological core led to a radical egalitarianism.” (To me, it’s radical egolessness, also.) Paul Rasor goes on, “In other words, Universalism was not simply pluralistic; it was radically inclusive.” (To me, this is how to be pluralistic in being.)
Rasor continues to write that “it is basically a commitment to liberation.” [To me, that means Sugarloaf’s kind of intellectual and spiritual freedom.] Early Universalists understood that liberation is communal, that human fulfillment and liberation are possible only in a context of open and inclusive communities based on respect and justice.” (End quote)
Fred Muir, with his iChurch article has given us a good reality check. There’s a reliable group process truth that the wisdom lies in an informed people of good will. That’s why I joined this community. Where I’m coming from is the stance Reid Hoffman, Linkedln’s founder, advises to do: “The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.”
I see Sugarloaf’s attracting new membership because of the ways we behave toward each other and the growth opportunities for the spiritual maturing our ways offer. This centering of authenticity is the best key for achieving sustainability. This unity of purpose will come from the whole congregation’s ability to better combine our collective energies, ideas and talents so that we become widely known in all the neighboring small towns plus Germantown. To me, this means getting more into the creative, imaginative discussions that build on each other’s ideas. Let’s play with “What if… (dot, dot, dot) exploratory visioning” together after we create our talking stick list. Rather than stating and sticking to one’s original position, let’s bring out our communal wisdom from a more openly receptive creative depth of discussion than we have now. Yes, we do have congregational meetings for information gathering. I’m talking about when we have decisions to make. Sugarloaf’s fire of commitment to our mission will foster membership growth because word will spread when people come to visit and get to know us.
Talkback - Now, I invite talkback from you all. My thinking about us being unique, but not exceptional as if we were better than other churches, comes from the recognition of our one-of-a-kind communal personality. Sugarloaf is unique and just right for some people to benefit from what we can give. Now, the floor is open for your telling “your take” about how we each can be more welcoming, how we each can erase any impression of self-satisfaction.
Here are my ground rules:
After the first person speaks, the second person’s comment uses what the first person says to base what he or she wishes to contribute for discussion. After all who wish to contribute to the first statement have spoken, a new subject can be offered by a new person. Therefore, it is not only figuring out what you want to say, but it, also, requires heavy duty listening to what others say. I have a stopwatch. No going over 2 minutes for what you contribute. Who would like to be the timer and handle the stopwatch? Who is willing to take notes to give to the membership committee? Who wants to give the first comment to act as a springboard for discussion?
What changes do you see are needed to help newcomers, easily, make their way into our congregation?