Fiercely UU is a new blog series where Unitarian Universalist young adults tell stories about what our faith requires of us and how they follow that call. To be fiercely UU is to proclaim human worth and interdependence. In an individualist, greed-based, shame and fear fueled white supremacist patriarchy, we say no to isolation and oppression and yes to radical love and covenanted connection. – Ed.
Love, Grace and Salvationby Elizabeth Mount
I grew up in the Unitarian Universalist faith, which told me that every person is sacred, and that the sacred connections between us form an interdependent web. Sounds nice, until I started to really think about what that means in terms of what I can and cannot do responsibly. Eighth grade and already I’m considering how my clothes were made, what food I’m eating, whether my schooling will affect the planet positively, and how to have compassionate conversations about sexual behavior.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid!
Don’t worry, it’s good pressure. It is the saving message of our religion, in fact, that every tiny action adds up. Salvation in this life is the salvation we focus on, regardless of what we as individuals believe happens after death. As a religion, we are the people who consider the moral arc of the universe, get ropes on it, and haul until it bends a little further toward justice.
It’s not just the huge actions that count, though they do matter. The people teargassed in the streets of Ferguson, hauling drowning refugees from the waters of the ocean, and lashing themselves together to bodily impede the progress of pipelines and drilling are undeniably important. They push for justice in great, unified, fervent heaves.
Yet the saving grace that connects us in love can be found in a simple moment when I hand someone a dollar from my car window, smile and sincerely wish them a good afternoon because I’ve been on the other side of the car window a couple times, and I know that it’s as much the sense of being seen as the money itself that uplifts a soul.
We find love in the everyday acts of kindness that push back against the idea that our love is a transaction between the giver and the receiver, that we should be receiving equal value for the kindness that we put into a relationship. If instead, we focus on the creation of moments of grace, acts of courageous encounter with the universe that tear our hearts open and make us able to feel deep connection, in those moments, we can save each other.
There’s the time I stopped my hurried walk to the car to wake an older man sleeping on the sidewalk and give him a spare mini-poncho because it was about to rain. This act gave me nothing material in return, but it was an act of grace, increasing love in the world. The magical moment of finding a bag of gummi bears in my purse after a long day because a colleague had quietly slipped them into my things, just in case, brought us both joy and connection through that simple act of consideration.We seldom spoke of salvation or grace in my UU congregation growing up. We seemed to think that language had been so thoroughly claimed by Christianity that it had nothing further to say to us as heretics who had left our institutional Christian identity behind. Now, there’s a shift in language happening in many churches, and I think it’s a good thing. Salvation is not an offer for the uncertain future after death, but a real and present aspiration in our lives, one that we can reach for by our words and actions. In this month, think about Valentine’s Day, the day of great gestures of commercialized love, and take the time to open your heart to small acts of loving kindness, both given and received. Think about Black History Month and the way that highlighting marginalized stories from oppressed groups disrupts the narratives of white supremacy, making way for more love and diversity in our society. This month, help bend the arc of justice until it curves to form one side of a heart that defines a salvific love.
Be a blessing to the world, and may you be blessed in return. Be Loved!
Elizabeth Mount is a seminarian at Meadville Lombard and a community organizer for environmental and racial justice. Elizabeth is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist(UU) who believes in the power of intergenerational communities to make a better world takes action as a UU in the public sphere.