Earlier today, we posted a challenge to our Facebook page for everyone in our community to make a post that starts with “I am a Unitarian Universalist…” and fill in the blank. Obviously, it would have been better promotion on our part if we had asked people to start that with “I Am UU…,” but we wanted to make sure that non-Unitarian Universalists would know what UU stood for, and possibly more importantly, it sounds weird to a lot of us to say “I Am Unitarian Universalist”.
You hear people say “I am Catholic” or “I am Baptist” pretty frequently in my part of the US. These people claim their label, and they know they are a part of something. UUs almost always say “I am a Unitarian Universalist”, because we separate ourselves from our religious movement; we are each just one Unitarian Universalist, and don’t ask us to speak for one another. That is how I see that peculiar UU habit, anyway, and it isn’t all bad. How does it makes us look, though? How welcoming is that to outsiders?
When I launched the I Am UU campaign, I thought really hard about the name. I wanted it to be short and catchy. I wanted it to show pride and ownership, because the idea was to attract people who wanted to help build and grow a new Unitarian Universalist movement. We’ve had more than a couple of people come to the I Am UU Facebook page and tell us “I don’t like your name. I am a Unitarian Universalist, not ‘UU”.” That is fine, but they are missing another level that I want to talk about now.
I Am UU isn’t just a statement about being a Unitarian Universalist. It is about taking ownership of our bottom-up democratic religion and saying “I Am Unitarian Universalism”. Really, you are. I am. The UUA staff are, even if they don’t attend a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Because we are a movement built on individual human experiences and perspectives, we are each a vital part of Unitarian Universalism, and it would not be the same without us. Sure the President and Board members have more power than you over congregational affairs. They still get the same vote that you do, and their actions are meant to represent you. They earned their extra power by taking on extra responsibilities. You can too. Any of us can. That is an inextricable part of Unitarian Universalism.
To say “I am Unitarian Universalism” is to claim that power for yourself, and hopefully to inspire you to earn it by being active in your congregation and your community. To say “I am Unitarian Universalist” is to claim your place in a bigger movement, and to say that being part of that movement is important to who you are.
I don’t expect to see a lot of change on this, but it was some of the thinking that went in to the original name of the Facebook page, and while it didn’t seem important to talk about back then, today I felt I needed to put it out there. I picked a name that was aspirational; I wanted people to proudly say “I am UU”, in both of these meanings. I may seem a little self aggrandizing to still hope for that, but while I am the person who publishes most of the content on the Website, the Facebook page, the Tumblr and Twitter accounts that have I Am UU in the name, it was always meant to be a community of people who wanted to share our Principles with the world, and to shape our shrinking religious tradition for the future.
My name is Thomas, and I am UU. Are you?