At age twenty, I had the fortune of traveling the world. Through a study abroad program, I journeyed to awe-inspiring destinations like India, Cuba, and South Africa. In the process, I witnessed extreme poverty, global wealth, power disparity, and the effects of war and militarism—all while assured of my safety and physical comfort.
Throughout my voyage, I became aware of the bubble within which I had these cross-cultural experiences—and within which I made sense of my whole life. I experienced my travels as getting smacked in the face by my own privilege—and it stung. And yet, I tried to remain open, to allow myself to be changed. To question or let go of what I had known before. To submit myself to a transformative experience and to answer whatever call the world offered me, hoping I could really listen.
When I returned to the United States, I struggled with what felt like more than reverse culture shock. All around me—in my suburban home, in my congregation, and at my liberal arts college—I saw now that my “normal life” was buffered from much of the world’s suffering. Everything seemed the same, yet forever different. In the first few weeks, I went through the motions: mechanically carrying out administrative tasks by day, numbing my mind with television by night. That lifestyle kept me functioning through my grief and fear. Grief for the life I’d led, but could no longer reconcile with what I now knew about the world. Fear that I would not, in fact, be changed but would instead resume my previous, ignorant patterns and assumptions. I felt a great sense of urgency, a frantic need to reconfigure my life in accordance with my values.
Soon after, my first UUA General Assembly brought me back to life. I’d long had a deep love for Unitarian Universalism. Because of it I had built many of my strongest, deepest friendships. I had been trained as a leader and claimed my voice—through preaching in the pulpit or singing favorite hymns in the pews. But that week, I connected in a new way with the Unitarian Universalist commitment to social justice—a commitment I now felt aching deep in my bones.
No longer alone—rather, literally surrounded by leaders and resources for justice-making—I began to lay a new path. Throughout the following decade, I devoted myself personally and professionally to social justice, returning again and again to my faith—not only as a movement for justice but as a sanctuary of spirit. Sometimes I needed connection with others. Other times, I needed a safe place to fall apart. More than once, my quest for justice left me weary, jaded, frustrated, and lost. Yet in the cradle of religious community, knowing that I am one among many building a better world, I have been birthed and re-birthed.