More so than anything that has come out of a General Assembly or the UUA offices in Boston, my personal ministry, the I Am UU project, has been shaped by James Luther Adams and his “5 Smooth Stones of Liberal Religion”. I firmly believe that they are part of the theological foundation of my religion, and that Unitarian Universalism is just one house built on those ideas. Adams did not create them out of nowhere, but merely distilled these truths into words; ours is certainly not the only religion built on their foundation. It is my spiritual home, and I believe it is a welcoming and comfortable place for most Americans, who are culturally Protestant even if they no longer believe in the One Way of thinking they were taught (even if it was just by Linus Van Pelt during the Charlie Brown Christmas Special).
Three of the ideas, in particular, led me to create the I Am UU project and to work at it until it was something meaningful. They are presented in my explanation in a different order than they were written by Adams, in that I am speaking of “stones” 4, 3, and 5:
The first is the idea (stone 4) that good and bad are either just human perception of otherwise benign events or things humans do to one another. Forest fires and floods are not evil acts, and what one person does out of a sense of love or justice could be really harmful or frightening to another. If we want good things to happen, and for them to be unambiguously good, we have to make them happen.
This leads to “Stone 3”, where we realize that we then have a duty to use what resources we have to do good, intentionally and deliberately, to increase the amount of good in the world. We must make it a goal and an obligation of our faith to make the world around us more just, more loving, and more equitable.
Stone 5 then reminds us that the span of human history leads, not without detour or setback, but inevitably and irrefutably towards that goal. It is not inevitable, but it seems that there is an innate desire in humanity as a species, if not as individuals, to move towards more compassion, more knowledge, more reason, and as a natural consequence of that, we have always moved, however slowly, towards justice and peace.
It is this last point I am focused on, today. This week, my congregation’s building was set on fire. It was the act of an individual, alone, and there is absolutely no evidence of political or religious motive. As the news has spread, so many have been quick to assume this was a hate crime, and that is not an unreasonable thing to wonder when you read just the headline. This was not an evil act, even though it almost hurts more to admit that. This was not malice towards our mission or theology; we were a target of opportunity. It could have happened to anyone.
The real focus, though, is on the hundreds of people who have reached out, asking if they can help in some way. My congregation is blessed to have a few people with a lot of connections and some small amount of internet fame. John Beckett, for instance, is a member and a very widely read UU Pagan blogger. I have been blessed with thousands of sets of eyes each week through the I Am UU project. Our minister is well-regarded as a community leader and interfaith advocate, and many of our members are leaders in the community or local business. On their Facebook posts I have read so many comments offering sympathy and asking what can be done to help us move forward. Even as the building is currently unusable for the smoke damage, there are hundreds of people who have never been in Denton asking if they can lend a hand.
As the fire consumed books, furniture and decorations, the Denton fire department rushed in to a burning building to save what they could, and that was almost everything. Since then, the offers of help and the expressions of sympathy have not stopped, coming in at all hours overnight. One person did something bad; hundreds came forward to help mitigate the losses and carry us forward until we can run again. That is what I want to focus on, today.
I created this graphic after the bombing of the Boston Marathon, and I have repeated the same sentiment a number of times: Damage is easy and pain is fast; building and rebuilding take time, and love is sometimes hard. There are still more people who choose the tougher path. As soon as a single person does a bad thing, teams of people are in route to do what they can to limit the damage and fix the problem. There are always more angels than devils, they just have the harder job. Human history shows us that the people doing good, building towards justice, and working with hearts full of love have always won out in the end.
That is what I am focused on today. That is why I am so proud of the community that has built up around the I Am UU project, and why I fight so hard to be able to maintain the project. It is because I want to be part of that movement, whether history records my name or not. I want to know that I was on the side of compassion and justice, and that I helped make that path easier for others to walk. You all make it easy for me to believe that it is true. Thank you.
The I Am UU project is a crowd-funded, personal ministry with a the goal of making Unitarian Universalism easier to understand and share so that we are each empowered to say “I Am UU”. the project would not be possible without the support of our Patrons on Patreon, and I ask you to consider becoming one of them with a pledge of just a few dollars a month to support liberal religious ministry for the 21st century. OurPatreon page has a list of current goals what we think we need in funding to make them possible listed on the left-hand column.