Aug 28 2015
September Theme: Compassion
Becoming the Loving People We Long to Be
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
Have you noticed? Every Sunday we welcome you into worship with these words:
“Just through your presence here this morning, you become a part of this community of love, hope, courage, and change…. We hope that being part of this community helps you to become the loving person that you long to be.”
Those italicized words are new. I added them this spring, after a congregant pointed out that we aren’t really a group of self-satisfied, self-actualized folks who already have it all together in the “love, hope, and courage” departments. Rather, we are a community of people who need and want to change, who long to be more loving, to feel more connected and compassionate instead of, say, judgmental, impatient, anxious, distracted, numb, or … Well, we can each fill in the blank with the mental and emotional habits that sometimes keep us from being our best selves.
We Unitarian Universalists have a long history of faith in the human capacity to make ourselves and the world a better place. At root, our religion calls us to draw on our own intentions and efforts in order to become the best people we can be. And by “best,” we mean as whole, authentic, and loving as humanly possible. We know now that we can’t get to our “best” alone. The old radical individualism that some Unitarians espoused can turn selfish and destructive; it certainly doesn’t serve the larger community; and it just doesn’t work to create health and happiness, let alone justice and peace.
Instead, we gather in community where we help each other learn and grow, where we build strength in our love by stretching ourselves to see our own and others’ lovability alongside our vulnerabilities, and where we practice living with compassionate curiosity about others’ experiences and perspectives every single day. Then we take that learning, that personal and communal change, out into the wider world to make a difference in visible, practical ways.
Within, among, beyond—these are the three “locations” of the work we do as a faith community. Within each of ourselves—our individual needs, longings, gifts, hopes, education, and change. Among groups and teams of people in our own community—through the practice of building loving, compassionate, justice-making Beloved Community at home in our congregation and with our near partners. And beyond the open doors of our congregation, out in the wider communities to which we are intimately connected and where our faith takes visible shape in shared action.
Lately I’ve been thinking about my own process of striving to become the loving person I long to be. In order to make the changes I can and want to make, I need to love my good old flawed self just as it is, complete with the triggers that spring from old traumas, my own particular menu of anxieties, and their troublemaking offspring—fear, impatience, control, perfectionism—not to mention all the standard-issue human shortcomings of limited time, energies, and capacities in some areas but not in others. That’s my “within” work …
Many of us could spend a lifetime just learning to love ourselves, couldn’t we?
But self-esteem, self-acceptance, even compassion and love for ourselves won’t on their own solve the existential problems of human loneliness and suffering. So I need—oh, how I need!—this community of the First Unitarian Church of San José, along with other communities to which I belong, where I can practice getting to know and understand people deeply, where I can practice working together across differences, where I can learn how to share my ministries and how to build my trust. That’s the “among” work …
And all of that makes possible an ever-widening circle of Love, connection, partnership, and change beyond our own community, whether that work takes place in City Hall or Sacramento, in a homeless shelter or at an oil refinery, in the smile I share with a stranger on the street or in the hand I hold as we allies wait to get arrested. That “beyond” work is every bit as central to my becoming the loving person I long to be as the “within” and the “among.”
Let’s face it: all of this is the work of a lifetime—and what a great way to spend this one wild and precious life! I am so grateful that we launch this big year at First Unitarian—the beginning of our 150th year of Making Love Visible—with a month focused on Compassion.
I can’t wait to see you in church!
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