Have you ever thought of our faith as an ancestral tree? It can be awe-inspiring to see the numerous roots and branches that make up our religious family. The "roots" of the tree are the values we hold dear, such as reason, tolerance, and freedom, hope, faith and love.
These roots have brought forth many ancestors, carrying these values out into the world. Though they have passed before us, they are still somehow with the family, kept alive in memories and stories, or the values they passed on to us. This is the trunk, from which the tree gets its strength. It is what unites us, perhaps in name, but also those very stories, memories and values that endure.
Who are the ancestors who have supported this faith? Arius and Origen, Joseph Priestley, John Murray, Hosea Ballou, Olympia Brown, Louisa May Alcott, and Susan B. Anthony. There are other, more recent UUs, too, such as Adlai Stevens, May Sarton, Kurt Vonnegut, and Whitney Young. None of these ancestors asks us to be exactly like them. Rather, the tradition they represent offers us security, inspiration, and a place to start our faith journeys—or, if you will, our flight. You know many of the traditions our ancestors stood strong for: the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice, equity and compassion in human relations; acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations; a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large; the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; and respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
The family tree of Unitarian Universalism was "watered" by various streams of thought and belief. Unitarianism holds that God is one. Universalism holds that everyone is "saved", not just a certain group. These are the two major streams of thought. But there are others. There are eastern and Pantheist traditions. These sources fed the writings of figures such as Emerson and Thoreau. More recently, there are neo-pagan streams that can awaken our senses to the natural world, and atheist streams, which can ground our thinking in rationality. All of our Sources keep the tradition alive and organic——ever growing, ever changing.
The UU community comprises the branches of the family tree, growing and changing to find the light, the multifaceted truth that we all seek.
On these branches are leaves, individual members of congregations. Each leaf is positioned at a unique place, to absorb the sunlight in his/her own way. These leaves give life to the tree even after they have fallen, nourishing the roots of our tradition with the reality of its members' truth-seeking, compassionate, justice-demanding, Nature-conscious faith.
The fruits of this tree are the writing and the music, the poetry, the conversations and the rituals that have developed as expressions of the tradition. The songs that we sing every Sunday, the lighting of a chalice, and the beautiful words we hear. The silence of our meditation. These are all fruits.
The fruits of this tree also include actions, such as the abolition movement or the work of Martha and Waitstill Sharp, who helped hundreds of Jews and other refugees escape Nazi persecution. It is also in the current "Standing on the Side of Love" campaign that is fighting oppression in all its forms, but especially oppression of immigrants and BGLT individuals and couples.
The congregation in which you find yourself is grounded, rooted in values and supported by a history of thoughtful, courageous, and unyielding people. It continues to grow and change, but will always be there to shelter and protect its members. You are the birds in the tree. You have taken in the fruits of the tree. Through music and stories and friendships and conversations and actions, you have absorbed the essence of the UU tradition, been nourished by it and what it has to give.
But the time will come for each of you to take flight. The tree and its fruits cannot tell you in what direction to fly. They can, however, give you hope, courage, sustenance, a place to look out and see the possibilities, and of course, a place to which you may always return home.