A FAITH WITH FEET

How to articulate the Unitarian Universalist message more succinctly? When asked the question, “What is it you guys actually believe?”, the response is often times begun with “well”, “um”, or an occasional pontificating that renders the listener bleary eyed.

Of course, the question itself is a misguided one.  You do not have to share a certain belief or set of beliefs to be a part of our liberal free thinking faith tradition. Instead, a soundbite answer (which our culture has a penchant for) is this: “We are a faith with feet.” A cornerstone of modern Unitarian Universalism is SOCIAL ACTION.  We place great value on living out our faith in works of love and justice and efforts on behalf of the most marginalized in society. 

It is well for us to remember this. One of the major forces in 20th century theology, a tireless proponent of social action and volunteerism was Unitarian minister, social activist, writer, and scholar James Luther Adams (1901-1994).  

A Harvard and Andover Newton professor for decades, popular with his students for his unabashed passion and candor, Adams vehemently fought against the tendency of religious liberals to be theologically content with vague slogans and platitudes about open-mindedness.  He believed, having witnessed the atrocities of WWII, that liberal churches must dig a little deeper or they would be rendered irrelevant and impotent in face of the world’s evil. He stated this conviction loudly and frequently.

Adams advocated volunteerism across a broad spectrum of issues as a powerful and necessary component of an authentically free spirit in a free church.  He penned many  essays and articles focusing on the theology of voluntary associations and social ethics, on topics ranging from politics to the grotesque in the arts to AIDS. 

He spoke with his feet as well.  Adams was interrogated by the Gestapo and almost thrown in prison while in Germany under the Third Reich for his association with the Underground Church Movement.  Using a home movie camera, he filmed Karl Barth, Albert Schweitzer, and others, to spread the underground resistance to the Nazi regime.  

At home, he worked tirelessly for an independent grassroots political organization whose goal was open and honest government.  He interpreted participation in voluntary associations, whatever the character of the government, as the chief means by which beneficial social change has been effected throughout history, and as key to the meaning of human history. 

James Luther Adams described the free church as “a body of believers freely joined in a covenant of loyalty to the holy spirit of love, intentionally inclusive of dissent, governed by its own members and fiercely independent from government control, with the reign of the spirit of love among members to be seen in their voluntary assumption of responsibility for the just character of their whole society.”

His influence continues to extend to the many institutions his former students of many faith traditions now serve, some with high distinction.  He was impatient with lifeless abstraction and wanted to know what you were DOING, what are your stories, about how your service work is working or not, what are the struggles? 

This is at the heart of our Unitarian Universalist faith.  To be worthy of our rich religious history, we must strive to be nothing less than a faith which is intellectually accountable and moves the spirit to action.  Pledge to be doing something that calls to your heart and helps to heal the world.

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THE PRACTICAL ART OF BEING A MENTOR

Life Coaches have been an extremely popular phenomenon for some years now. These are men and women who are trained (for the most part) in certain areas of psychology, business, sports, and their accompanying motivational models.  Much of it has to do with the science of human development.  There is no doubt that many have benefited by reaching personal or professional goals through working with these life coaches.

Similarly, we hold up as role models those who exemplify passion and vitality and a commitment to excellence combined with an unyielding compassion. Personalities such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela,  or Albert Schweitzer come to mind.   

Yet, we can be and are “life coaches” to people in our own lives.  We are role models to our children certainly (for better or worse).  This is at times, a scary and daunting truth, but an important one to hold.

At our best, we are sources of inspiration, consolation, and powers of examples to those whose lives we touch on a daily basis.

So, how do we assure that the kind of mentoring we are giving to others and just as importantly, accepting from others is fostering growth and wisdom?

I think that I would answer that with the 3 P’s: Presence, Passion, and Practicality.  You work towards being a practical, passionate presence to others.  This means being fully yourself with the other person.  It may be that your personality is exuberant or laid back and reserved, your type of personality is not at the heart of the matter.  Passionate here refers more to the commitment you make to your life than a particular way of being.  This includes honesty, with yourself and others.   

You help your children, coworkers, family, and friends by encouraging them to find their own wisdom in overcoming obstacles by sharing and modeling how you have gotten through difficult and painful times.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama once said, “If you utilize obstacles properly, then they strengthen your courage, and they also give you more intelligence, more wisdom.  But if you use them in the wrong way,” he added, laughing gently, “you will feel discouraged, failure, depression.” 

A listening, caring presence is vital.  This means that you must also take time daily to be alone, even if only for a few minutes, so that your emotional battery has some charge in it.  You often can not immediately fix problems presented to you. These are THEIR issues (hard to remember with loved ones) that by working through them will create happier and more empowered individuals.  Listen, ask questions to gain clarity…and then share your own strength and experience.

Much of what I share in times of trouble is to not be afraid of your feelings or being vulnerable.  Feel all your feelings (even the painful ones), cry, get angry, bake a cake.  Let these feelings have their way with you, they are going to anyway.  And then it becomes easier to let these feelings go, let them flow away from you. 

Mentoring means giving of yourself so that others can determine for themselves what lessons they are going to take and keep for the journey.  Hopefully, the ones you mentor gain a sense of mastery by coming out the other side of a difficult challenge and to a certain extent, may even find gratitude by going through the situation.

Lastly, mentoring is infectious.  It what’s Robert Wicks in his book Sharing Wisdom calls positive contamination: “Mentors are infectious.  They model fresh, frank, and innovative ways to live life.  To do this they need not be brilliant, famous, wealthy, good looking, or accomplished.  They simply need to be enthusiastic and genuinely themselves, and to see life as precious.  Who they are provides as much to the pepople seeking mentoring as what they know.”

This does not mean that the mentor didn’t have pain, experience shame, make mistakes-even big ones. It means they didn’t settle.  They live life fully and find value in themselves and their experiences. They learned and can model how to reframe both the questions in their lives and the answers.”