"Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” — John Lennon
According to evolutionary theory, life, as we know it, is the result of unfathomable numbers of small changes taking place over eons of time. An intriguing element of the theory is that if you could roll back time and start life over, you would not get the same result. Some other constellation of life’s diversity would evolve.
This is unnerving. It means that there is nothing inevitable in the nature of things for any species — including homo sapiens — to exist at all!
Intriguing. And irksome. There is no necessity for you and me to be at all! Really? Oh, my.
Or: How awesome! We are an amazing rarity among an infinite combination of probabilities. We are precious beyond words. Wow.
The unpredictability of things comes to mind as I reflect on the weird place I find myself in recent months. You may recall, last winter, I announced my intention to retire at the end of June.
Since then, life happened.
The plan and process of appointing my successor went awry. This sparked a storm of protest over UUA hiring practices and culture. This, in turn, resulted in the resignations of our Association’s President, Chief Operating Officer, and Director of Congregational Life. If you could roll time back and start over, might there have been another outcome? We’ll never know.
Meanwhile, I have been asked to stay on a little longer. I will remain as the Region’s Lead until the end of September. Not quite what I planned.
An aftermath of the protest is that the Association is now embarked upon a profound conversation about our faith and core values. There are some big questions:
- What does our faith require if we are truly to commit to promoting the worth of all people. Recall our Universalist teaching — God’s love is so great that all are to be saved; no one is left out. In modern terms, we speak of the “beloved community” in which all souls are prized and accorded full dignity. No one is left out.
- How do we, should we, confront a culture that has been skewed for centuries to benefit white people at the expense of people of color? A philosophical debate over “white supremacy” has begun.
- Given that very few of our congregations include a substantial number of people of color, how do we recruit them to leadership positions within our UUA?
- What do we need to do to reconcile our faith with our historic position of privilege? How must our Association change going forward? There is no rolling back time and starting over. We need to at least acknowledge where we are.
The Reverend Bill Sinkford is the former UUA President. He generously has returned as one of three interim UUA Co-Presidents. Upon learning that more than 700 congregations — over two thirds of our Association’s membership — had participated in recent, grass-roots, volunteer led “teach-ins” regarding white supremacy, Bill observed that he had tried for the eight years of his Presidency to have this conversation.
Whatever the spark, it’s an examination long overdue. Our Associational life is evolving in ways none would have predicted. This is a good thing.
In a few days, delegates from our congregations will meet in New Orleans for our annual General Assembly. We will elect a new President and other officers who will lead us into our evolving future. We will worship, richly informed by the leadership of groups such as Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism, DRUUM (Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Ministries) and Allies for Racial Equity. We will hold many workshops and other sessions to pursue the big questions of faith and life commitment. The UUA Board will establish a Commission for Institutional Change to carry the conversation forward after GA. What will unfold?
To be candid, there is much pain behind these aspirations. There is nothing in our theology that excludes particular socio-demographic or identity-based groups — yet, we have been and are a prevailingly Euro-centric, white community.
- To what extent has “white supremacy” been the very spiritual air we breathe, its impact of exclusionary privilege simply out of our awareness?
- Is our faith captive to values contrary to our theology?
The pain of our companions is no longer hidden in an unconscious adaptation. So, awkwardly, at this time, we come to the table to engage one another in new ways, to see what we have not seen, to hear those we have not heard.
I have no special insight to know how it will go. I suspect that it may be difficult — for all.
Being human, no one really likes to change fundamentals. Institutional status quo does not change readily. It requires an acute, often resisted, phase of examination, confrontation and disorientation. It feels like things are falling apart.
I imagine we’ll blunder a bit, perhaps step on one another’s hearts, regardless of good intentions. Forgiveness is not central to most of our liturgies; I think it may be needed more than we know.
I also imagine we’ll tap another element of faith. Love is our core teaching. I believe we can approach potentially difficult conversations with grace in the spirit of loving engagement. No doubt there will be mistakes, even tensions among us. We will need humility. We’ll have to notice when our impact is at odds with our intention and be ready to say “I’m sorry, please forgive me.” We will need to risk embarrassing ourselves or infuriating one another. Mostly, we’ll have to learn how to stay at the table long enough for reconciliation to occur.
I like the question WWUUD? What would a Unitarian Universalist do? I urge us to keep in mind and heart: the answer begins, even ends in love.
May we be blessed to risk love, to grow in love, to learn in love, to heal in love, to live in love. And trust, we’ll evolve.
With love for our faith and our people,