The root of religion means "to bind fast" and is related to the wordrely which means "to place an obligation on." When we choose Unitarian Universalism as our religion, we claim and are claimed by the tradition. In claiming Unitarian Universalism as a religion, we are binding ourselves to something that puts an obligation on us. We claim it and it claims us back.
While choosing Unitarian Universalism freely as a home spiritual community may be an individual act of religious freedom, it also means moving away from ME and into WE. When we claim Unitarian Universalism, an obligation is placed on us to faithfully do two things:
- build on the gifts and wisdom of the tradition, especially to carry them forward toward what is yet to come; and
- learn about and work to repair the damage our religious ancestors have caused or perpetuated over time.
As we do this work, we remember that the very same practices can contain both gifts and harms. The practice of covenant, for example, can be practiced in truly liberatory ways, but the people who brought this idea to New England from Europe thought of the covenant as between only themselves and their god, neglecting to bring the same spirit of mutuality and reciprocity to the indigenous people of the land. So, we need to repair the harm of that oppressive understanding of covenant, even as we explore the liberatory potential of covenant. Being a people of faith means we are obliged to do these two things as part of our being, belonging, and becoming.
We have been hard pressed to find a better articulation of the deep theological potential of binding to tradition than from Unitarian minister and theologian James Luther Adams from his essay “The Church that is Free”:
“I call that church free which is not bound to the present, which cowers not before the vaunted spirit of the times. It earns and creates a tradition binding together past, present, and future in a living tether, in a continuing covenant and identity, bringing forth treasures both new and old.”