Just today I had the privilege of leading a class for the Interfaith Seminar hosted by our friends over at Temple Israel. We had several dozen people in the ZOOM room from many faith traditions. The topic assigned to me was “Maintaining Faith in Difficult Times.”
I began my comments by telling the people there that, unlike many other religious traditions, Unitarian Universalism doesn’t have an origin story as Judaism, Christianity and Islam do. We come out of the Protestant Reformation but we aren’t avowedly Christian or Jewish. We are a congregation that finds strength in its community and our story is one of a people, this congregation, who has been here for over four generations. I also said that we find strength in our Seven Principles and the Six Sources.
In particular I held up our faith in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and explained that even when people do evil things, they still have worth. I held up our 7th Principle, the belief in the interdependency of all life of which we are a part, and explained that what we do matters not just for us now, but for future generations.
Then I spoke of our faith in science (remember science?) and reason and service: there is no better way to find hope in trying times than to help others. I confessed my optimism which sometimes gets me into trouble: that there is faith in assuming the better of others and in realizing that the worst we imagine doesn’t usually happen.
Finally, I spoke about the faith to be found at looking at our lives, and this time, as a journey in emergence. Schopenhauer once wrote that the first forty years of life are our text, and the second forty our commentary on that text. Borrowing on a metaphor from David Brooks, we have mostly climbed the First Mountain of earthly concerns: jobs, relationships, families, reputation, and now it’s time to climb the Second Mountain, the Mountain that gives back to the world (see The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life). Our faith has us call our friends and family and see how they are doing. Our faith has us log onto our worship service and chat with friends. Our faith has us make lunches for the homeless and do it almost 9000 times. What I am suggesting is that we can use this time to be a commentary on the best of our lives and values.
This is a time of faith emerging as well. It does not escape many of us that we have been carrying the sorrow of this pandemic/election/economy/injustice burden for nine long months. We see the new day waiting to be born and we have to wait just a little bit longer. But keep the faith. Change is coming. Along with that change will be real changes in how we relate to one another as well. We will continue to meet virtually and soon physically. We will stay connected to those who can’t be together with us physically. We will expand our circle beyond Fairfield County to the country, even the world. We will reimagine our life as a congregation, creating times to gather that are beyond Sunday morning.
For years, there have been prophets among us who have claimed a new era is emerging (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRtQM5lO0aw), just as new eras emerged in the Axial Age, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. This time of pandemic might very well be the beginning of our collective Second Mountain: climbing beyond greed and self-interest, and dealing with inequity, injustice and the warming of the earth. I see it in the work of so many young people and I see it in your eyes as well.
Come, let us keep the faith and climb this second mountain of faith together.
Yours always, Rev. John