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Introduction, Workshop 9: Justice Practices

In "Spirit in Practice," a Tapestry of Faith program

What we would like to do is change the world—make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended for them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, of the poor, of the destitute... we can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world. We repeat, there is nothing that we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend.

—Dorothy Day

The sixth workshop in this series—"Body Practices"—encouraged healing the split that is often thought to exist between the body and the spirit. The eighth—"Life Practices"—focused attention on the seeming dichotomy between spirituality and our everyday lives. These are really two examples of the same fundamental misunderstanding about spirituality—that spirituality is somehow apart from, or different than, regular life. Things "of the spirit" are seen as somehow more ethereal than our physical bodies and more miraculous than our mundane experiences.

There is another common example of this same essential error: the separation of religion and politics. You might hear individuals in our congregations complain that there is too much talk about politics on Sunday morning and not enough spirituality—or conversely, that there's too much spirituality and not enough politics. Either way, the two are often thought of as separate spheres.

Mohandas Gandhi—known by the Indian people as both "Great Spirit" (Mahatma) and "Papa" (Bapu)—is remembered as saying that those who say religion has nothing to do with politics understand neither religion nor politics. The Unitarian Universalist minister Mark Morrison-Reed has said, "The central task of the religious community is to unveil the bonds that bind each to all. There is a connectedness, a relationship discovered amid the particulars of our own lives and the lives of others. Once felt, it inspires us to act for justice." At its best—at its deepest, its most full—religion always decreases separation and increases connection. It is not narcissistic navel gazing. We discover that we all have Buddha nature, or are all members of the body of Christ, or that we are all—along with the animals, the trees, and the stars—children of "Mother Earth."

One way or another, all of the great religious and spiritual traditions we humans have ever developed point to a fundamental commonality that absolutely requires us to care for one another. As the well-known Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, we "inter-are"; we are not truly independent, but rather are interdependent. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., puts it this way in his sermon Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution : "We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality ." Our own Unitarian Universalist Association's Statement of Principles and Purposes tells us that we UUs affirm the idea that all of existence is an interdependent web. And, as the Reverend Morrison-Reed says, once you fully embrace this interconnectedness you are compelled to act.

And we Unitarian Universalists have a proud history of action. In fact, for many adults who find our movement, our activism is the first level of engagement. As Unitarian Universalists, our personal faith is not necessarily connected with a belief in a supernatural deity. Faith is meant to convey our connection and commitment to whatever we hold most real and most true. We may have faith in God. We may have faith in the essential goodness of humanity. We may believe in the brokenness of humanity, yet have faith in our ability to grow beyond it. We may have faith that peace is worth fighting for, that one day people will see that it matters not so much whom you love as that you love, or that it is indeed possible for us all to learn to get along. Each of us has some kind of faith, and none of us ever acts without those actions being informed by our faith.

This workshop encourages us to realize that our religious/spiritual faith and our social engagement must not only co-exist, but must be fully integrated, because they are, in essence, one and the same thing. After all, what is social action but ministry to a hurting world? And as the minister and author Frederick Buechner notes, our ministries, our place of service, our action in the world will be found where our deep passion and the world's deep hunger meet. Finding such a place is a spiritual task; responding to it is as well.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Saturday, October 29, 2011.

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