What would Unitarian Universalism be like if we lived from our faith more than we lived from our fears? And when I say “we,” I mean each of us, and each of our UU institutions. What would we be like if our minds, our hearts, our spirits shifted from fear to faith?
This is an open question that we on Pacific Western Region staff are asking of ourselves and our congregations. It’s one of the seven shifts that we are fostering in Unitarian Universalism.
First, let’s talk about fear. We are living in a country where our fears are stoked daily. And our UU institutions are feeling this fear too. When we are fearful, we think more narrowly. We are deeply sensitive to the possibility of threat, and highly alert to any possibility of loss. Conflicts become all-or-nothing, we dig in our heels. Changes—even positive ones like congregations growing or becoming more multiculturally inclusive—feel unwelcome and anxiety-provoking.
How do we move into a place of faith? First, I need to clear some things up about the word. Here, I’m talking about the faith we can have in one another as people, and the sense of faith that grounds our spirituality.
Spiritual faith is not the same as spiritual certainty. The kind of faith I’m talking about is not the same as “belief in improbable supernatural things” or a belief that “everything works out for the best.” The kind of faith I’m talking about is borne out of our own deepest experiences, as Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg writes.
Our personal and congregational faith comes from our truest experiences, our deepest selves, and our interdependence with all. When we live from our faith we “trust our own deepest experience” and place our hearts there, even though we may still feel fear. Faith gives us courage, binding us to our heart’s truth, helping us move forward with creativity and hope.
I wonder what our congregations could be like if we followed this principle, from Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism’s Working Agreements:
Hope before fear: We put hope, desire, and longing at the center of our thinking and work, instead of (and before) working out of fear. This means, when in doubt, we are on the side of trusting each other (as leaders) and building trust with the other people we work with.
What if we operated from faith, more than fear? Like BLUU’s Working Agreements, the resources below can be aides on your journey. From sermons to podcasts, books to spiritual practices, you have many ways to join us on this deeply meaningful journey. As people and as congregations, may we be guided by our deepest experience. May we place our hearts there. May we live with faith, and dedicate ourselves in the service of love and life.
I Learned Hope the Hard Way: On the Early Days of Black Lives Matter by DeRay McKesson in The Guardian, April 12, 2019
“We Are Striking to Disrupt the System”: An Hour with 16-Year-Old Climate Activist Greta Thunberg, Democracy Now, September 11, 2019
Fortification Podcast, Caitlin Breedlove interviews UUA President Rev. Susan Frederick Gray, May 29, 2019
Faith and Patience by Rev. Barbara Prose, All Souls Unitarian Church, Tulsa, OK, September 25, 2017
I Will Not Die an Unlived Life by Dawna Markova
Congregational Board Member Training module six, In the Wilderness: Change is Hard, Even if it’s the Promised Land.
Spilling the Light: Meditations on Hope and Resilience by Rev. Theresa I. Soto, the 2019 UUA InSpirit book of meditations
Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience by Sharon Salzburg
Breathing Through, by Joanna Macy. Macy is eco-philosopher, teacher, and Buddhist practitioner.
Psalm 23 for This Moment, by Rev. Kevin Tarsa. Written for the 2017 memorial service for Jim Key, UUA Moderator.
From Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism’s blog, just after Trump’s election:
Our faith calls us to be in community, and it is to community we turn. Our faith calls us to believe in abundance, in generosity, to step out of fear and to build that which we cannot see but we know is possible. We will not abandon our belief in Beloved Community because in these times we need it now more than ever, we will not give into fear, and while our fighting may begin in anger, it is sustained in love. In love for the Syrian refugee, in love for our Somali brothers and sisters, in love for our Iranian human family, in love for our Sudanese family, in love for our Mexican neighbors.
The Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg writes of faith in her book Faith: Trusting Your Deepest Experience:
In Pali, the language of the original Buddhist texts, the word usually translated as faith, confidence, or trust is saddha. Saddha literally means "to place the heart upon." To have faith is to offer one's heart or give over one's heart. In Pali, faith is a verb, an action, as it is also in Latin and Hebrew. Faith is not a singular state that we either have or don't have, but is something that we do. We "faithe." Saddha is the willingness to take the next step, to see the unknown as an adventure.
It is a common assumption that faith deepens as we are taught more about what to believe; in Buddhism, on the contrary, faith grows only as we question what we are told, as we try teachings our by putting them into practice to see if they really make a difference in our own lives. The Buddha himself insisted, "Don't believe anything just because I have said it. Don't believe anything just because an elder or someone you respect has said it. Put it into practice. See for yourself if it is true."