Sunday, March 14, 2010

Radically Welcome

When I read the question guiding today's service – "What would happen if our Society closed its doors and ceased its ministries tomorrow?" – I stopped breathing.

"I've only just found you all," I thought. "I've been looking for so long, and I only just found you." The idea of this place ceasing to exist sent my heart into a panic.

Before coming here, I'd made a kind of resigned peace with being a solo practitioner in my spiritual life. Just to be clear, there's a lot of value in it. I got the chance to explore what I really believe and what works for me. There were none of the squabbles or power plays that crop up in human institutions. Plus, I could set up the altar any way I like, and scheduling was a breeze. But I found it hard to sustain a regular practice without more structure to support me.

It feels akin to the difference between being single and being in a relationship. There are critical things I learned about myself while I was single, and probably because I was single: a sense of my inherent self-worth, satisfaction with my own company, how to resolve conflicts, a trust in my ability to live independently. Before I met Emily, I'd come to a place where I was looking for a partner, but I was also content on my own.

And then I did meet Emily, and found myself stretched and challenged in a whole new set of ways. Our relationship has opened different doors into the world for me. It's helped me heal old wounds, and shown me parts of myself – both good and bad – that I wouldn't have found otherwise. Sure, being single meant there were fewer disputes about whose turn it was to walk the dog or who left food on the counter, but there was also a whole lot less love.

As in any relationship, I believe our challenge as Unitarian Universalists worshiping together, caring for each other, and together creating a more just world is to find a way to operate from that place of love even when there's conflict, and especially when we're trying to reconcile different visions for this church.

For example, my favorite homilies of [Senior Minister] Greg [Stewart]'s – and I've already told him this, so it's no secret – are the ones in which his natural warmth and caring presence come through. Where I have an emotional stake in his stories and insights, not just an intellectual one. Perhaps for some of you, though, those are the services you wish you'd stayed home for. Yet each of us deserves to be here – in fact, each of us is needed as an integral part of our spiritual community.

For me, the purpose of this church comes down to one simple thing: I want to be here, and I want you here, too, whoever you are. Because in the places where our beliefs overlap as well as the areas of meaningful disagreement – even in the squabbles – I learn something about myself. And because now that I've found a spiritual home, I want to throw open the doors as wide as possible so that everyone – everyone – feels radically, lovingly, unconditionally welcome.

We may not always succeed in reaching this ideal. Sometimes, we may not even want to try. But I had to wait even longer to find this place than I did to find the love of my life. I can't imagine a greater way to show my gratitude than to keep myself pointed towards that radical welcome and to keep my heart open to share and absorb as much love as I can.

Let's answer Greg's challenge from last week. Let's be the church together. In doing so, I think we'll take each other's breath away.

I wrote and delivered this piece as the Credo for the March 14, 2010, service at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.

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