All Life Is a Gift

By Carlton Elliott Smith

For all that is our life / we sing our thanks and praise / for all life is a gift / which we are called to use / to build the common good and make our own days glad.

--from “For All That Is Our Life”, #128 in Singing the Living Tradition

Like everyone else, we, your Southern Region UUA Staff, continue to adjust to the emerging reality that is the COVID-19 pandemic. As individuals, we have taken on hygiene, healthy distancing and wiping down surfaces with appropriate fervor. As UUA staff members, we have followed the mandate coming from UUA President Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray to reduce the likelihood of becoming vectors of the novel coronavirus by sheltering in place, staying home, and putting ourselves in self-quarantine if necessary. As members of the Congregational Life Staff Group, we are (1) reaching out to ministers and presidents in all our congregations across the region via phone call or email; (2) canceling in-person meetings as circumstances warrant, and; (3) adapting existing programming and events for online access. These actions touch on the day-to-day aspects of our commitment to our liberal religious communities.

We recognize that now is the time for us to put all that we’ve shared with you over many years to work. In our programs and events, we often talk about the “Rollercoaster” or the “Wave of Change.” There’s excitement when a change is announced, representing a peak experience of a kind, followed by feelings of guilt, grief, loss, blame/shame, detachment and other painful emotions until we get to the trough, the very bottom, where we make the choice to stay in community or depart from it. Should we choose to stay, we begin to work our way up the curve, gathering information, trying new ways of being, making mistakes, creating a new identity, reattaching to community and developing a new sense of hope, leading to excitement, and then … the next change finds us, or we find it.

Also, in our programs, we talk about the difference between technical challenges and adaptive challenges. When we face technical challenges, the problem is clear, and resolution is clear. For example, if a pipe bursts in the kitchen, we contact the plumber to fix it. We know what the issue is and how to address it. An adaptive challenge is different in that the problem it presents is unfamiliar and its resolution will require new skills and new ways of being. If the building burns to the ground, there will need to be many conversations about what to do next: To rebuild or not? On the same property or not? Would it be better to rent instead? What type of building do we want now? All of these would be part of the questioning.

The COVID-19 pandemic is about as extreme an example of an adaptive challenge as one can imagine. We are only a few weeks inside it, and already it has upended countless industries, businesses and organizations around the globe. In order to safeguard against contagion and life-threatening illness, we have had to rethink the ways in which we connect with those we love. In some instances, we’ve had to let go of contact with loved ones because the risk was too great. How we entertain ourselves, how we shop, how we touch each other, what we eat, where and how we work (if we can still work) are all matters that are being redefined with each passing breath.

As your staff, we find ourselves incredibly humbled by these circumstances we could have hardly imagined just a few short weeks ago. Our lives have been blown sideways as have so many of yours. We are grappling with our individual and collective vulnerabilities as the virus spreads further and more people fall ill, sometimes terminally so.

Tracking expert projections based on what’s happened in other countries, we know our circumstances will become much more difficult before they begin to improve. Already, we hear of famous people and friends and family of people we know who are sick and/or have lost their lives. This includes members of our own communities, including some of you who might be reading this blog.

We don’t pretend to have all the answers to your questions, but we do affirm that you are not alone in this situation. You are part of a network of congregations, communities and leaders who care for one another and need each other to survive. You are part of a faith that is committed to peace, liberty and justice for all, especially when inequality and greed seem to be the order of the day. You are part of a universe that is abundant with possibilities, including this extraordinary chance to reshape societies and cultures such that the focus is on our shared humanity rather than our shared commodification of each other’s lives.

For this reason, in this time of severe uncertainty, we can still claim that all life is a gift. There will be good that will come out of these difficult times, and together, we will make it so.

In faith,

Your UUA Southern Region Team

About the Author

Carlton Elliott Smith

Rev. Carlton E. Smith is the Regional Lead for the Pacific Western Region. From 2013 to 2020, he was a member of the UUA Congregational Life Staff Group serving in the Southern Region....

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