Tending to Tradition* A Practice of Spiritual Leadership

watering plants

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. As the current generation of Unitarian Universalists, we have inherited our faith from those who came before, and we will hand it on to those who come after. Yet this inheritance is not static. We do not pass it on unchanged. Rather, it is like a garden. As a living tradition, it changes over time while also keeping a connection to its earlier self.

Like a garden, our living tradition requires continual tending. When we claim Unitarian Universalism, we are taking up that task of tending our tradition. Specifically, we are accepting the responsibility to do two things:

  1. build on the gifts and wisdom of the tradition, especially to carry them forward toward what is yet to come; and
  2. 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 need to continually tend our tradition, bringing nourishing seeds to harvest, weeding and pruning that which is harmful, and making repair where it is needed.

*We have used a different name for this practice in the past, and have recently shifted our language away from words that might cause harm, especially to people of African and Asian descent.

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Tending to Tradition

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