A Principled Path
Two young girls from the neighborhood attended church this morning, coming on their own for the second time. They have clearly already made a friend, and this week they sang in our choir – one did the solo for “Hush”
Video is posted (here)
Call to Worship (here)
Socrates, that ancient Greek philosopher that lived in 400 BCE is quoted as saying that the unexamined life is not worth living.
I am not sure that I completely agree with him. Life, all life, has value. There are animals that do not have the capacity for self-reflection that we humans have, but their lives are certainly worth living. Those of you who have shared your lives with animal friends know this to be true.
But Socrates’ point is a good one. Because we can examine our lives, it is a waste to simply live our lives without ever thinking about what they mean.
20th century Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams took Socrates’ statement in a different direction. He said,
“An unexamined faith is not worth having, for it can be true only by accident. A faith worth having is faith worth discussing and testing…No authority, including the authority of individual conviction, is rightly exempt from discussion and criticism. (Adams, The Prophethood of All Believers 1986, 48).
Adams was pretty blunt about it.
“The free person does not live by an unexamined faith. To do so is to worship an idol whittled out and made into a fetish.
The free person believes with Socrates that the true can be separated from the false only through observation and rational discussion. In this view the faith that cannot be discussed is a form of tyranny.”
An unexamined faith is not worth having.
So how do we, as Unitarian Universalists, examine our faith? How do we examine our lives and learn how to follow a principled path, one that makes us feel more alive and one that makes a difference for our world.
We don’t have a common creed. As individuals we have many different ideas about God, we have a wide variety of opinions about almost everything really.
We do have some things, however, that we have agreed upon. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what those things are?
Yes, we have our seven principles that can help guide us in our lives. What is your favorite principle? Call it out!
The majority of Unitarian Universalists are most strongly drawn to either to our first principle or to our seventh. They are certainly the most often quoted in sermons and in conversations when you are trying to explain what Unitarian Universalism is all about.
Affirming and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person is important. So is respecting the interdependent web of all existence.
The first principle uplifts the rights of the individual and the seventh reminds us that we are part of something much larger. (Holding up hands) Individual – community. We struggle with the tension between those two principles.
How do we handle a truly disruptive individual, respect their inherent worth, and still manage to move ahead as a community? What if there is a decision to make and almost everyone is saying yes and a few people are loudly shouting “no”?
Do we try to please everyone or do we just keep fighting about whatever it is? Do we sometimes just say, “thank you for your opinion, but we are going ahead, because it is the right thing to do for our community and for the world?”
Some say there is an inherent conflict between our first and seventh principles.
But isn’t part of respecting someone’s worth and dignity letting them know when they are doing something that diminishes of damages another person or group of people? We offer real respect by engaging them
Similarly, the seventh principle respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part is about a lot more than respecting the environment.
It says we are all connected. Every individual with all of their inherent worth and dignity is connected to every other individual. So what do we do if there is a conflict between an individual and the needs of the wider community?
The difficulty we sometimes have is, I believe, that we too often forget that we have seven principles, not just two. The first and seventh principles are like bookends. Sometimes we need to pay attention to what is in the middle.
What’s in the middle? What is our 4th principle? It is OK to look it up.
Bingo. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning is the correct answer.
The other 4 principles lead us there, moving from the outside in.
The second principle, justice, equity and compassion in human relations points to the sixth, the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
The second principle is about how we promise to treat individuals, while the sixth is what that means on a larger scale.
The third and fifth principles, acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations and the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large; Those tell us what to do as we engage in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
Free (one hand) Responsible (other hand)
Individual – Community
It is the essence of dramatic tension. Everyone who wants to live ethically, in right relationship to other people and to the world, to examine their life and their faith, struggles with contradictions. How do we search for truth and meaning? How do we discover what we are called to do with our lives? It is a call, a spiritual call. Being called is not something just for professional ministers. And what is our usual answer? Who me? Not me, God.
Moses said, “Choose my brother instead. He’d be much better at this than me.”
The Buddha sat beneath a tree; Jesus went into the wilderness. They were seeking truth and meaning, wondering what their lives were really about.
Don’t we all do that? We wonder why we are here, if our life has any purpose, any meaning beyond whatever societal success we might attain or not. What is the point? Does it matter what we do and how we live?
To find the answers to those questions, we have to go deep, very deep, inside of ourselves. We have to look in the mirror and see our whole selves, our failings as well as our gifts. Who am I? Why am I here? What am I called to do?
Who are you? Why are you here?
What are you called to do with your one precious life?
It can be scary.
The choir just sang the song “Hush”. It is in our teal hymnal. “Hush, hush, somebody’s calling my name, oh my lord, oh my lord, what shall I do?”
What shall we do when we know our name is being called? What shall we do when we know that it is time, past time, for us to stand for freedom and for justice? What shall we do when we are afraid?
Fear has so many dimensions: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of ridicule, fear of power, fear of the unknown.
No, not me; choose someone else.
But while we are sitting beneath the tree, while we are wandering in the desert, while we are drawing whatever wisdom we can from each and every one of our six sources, we also need to be turning ourselves inside out, finding a path based on principles that we believe in.
The Buddha did not stay beneath the tree, he was called by the suffering he saw around him to go back into the world. Moses came down from the mountain to lead his people to the Promised Land. Jesus came back from the desert and began casting out demons and healing the sick. They answered their calls.
It doesn’t really matter who we think is calling.
It could be God and it could be something that is part of the human spirit. Personally, I believe that something beyond human understanding calls us to be the best people we can possibly be. It stirs our souls, comforts us in the dark nights, and keeps us going when we have lost almost all of our hope.
I tend to call it God, the Holy Spirit, or the divine presence. Name it what you will, but to live life fully, we all must tap into that source, that Spirit of Life that lets us know that our lives do have meaning; there is a reason we are here.
Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
There is a place, deep within each of us, that knows what will make us come alive.
Our justice work is most effective when it comes from that place, the place of passion as well as conviction.
If our heads, our hearts, and our spirits are all engaged then our actions and our witness has a power beyond measure.
It is so easy to look away, to turn from what we know is calling us, it is so easy to say, “Not me, someone else can do it better.” “I am too busy.” It is easy to avoid looking inside to find what you know is yours to do. We miss the chance to come fully alive.
Of course, it is also possible to get lost in endless contemplation, to ignore the world, and just seek our own personal enlightenment.
But if we listen to whatever is calling our name, then we hear the cries of the suffering and we feel the pain of the oppressed. The world becomes part of us, we know that we are not merely separate individuals, isolated in our own pain, our own worries, but we are contained in an intricate web of life, a web that is held together by compassion and by caring.
It isn’t a linear process, this spiritual seeking. A circle is created, energy is renewed, and the call is heard and answered. The world is changed and we are changed, and the world is changed some more.
We are all called to be accountable to the Spirit that lives within us and to live in a way that reflects that Spirit and brings more love and justice into the world. Paying attention to and trying to live by our seven principles can help us do that. The most important one is the one inside of all the others, that free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
We are all accountable to the Spirit of Life. We nurture and grow our own souls, and so we will heal each other and the world. We can walk a principled path together.
song: “It’s a blessing you were born and it matters what you do. What you Know about God is a part of the truth. Let the beauty you love be what you do and you don’t have to do it alone.”
Link to song (here)