Like-Hearted People

  “You need not think alike to love alike.”

This was the wisdom of Francis David, spiritual advisor to King John Sigismund of Transylvania, the Unitarian king who pronounced the first edict of religious toleration in the year 1568.

You need not think alike to love alike.

At Unitarian Universalist gatherings, I sometimes hear “it is so nice to be with a group of like-minded people.” Beloveds, it is tempting, in the not-so-liberal parts of these United States, to take refuge in liberal religion. Here you are welcome. We often say in worship welcomes “no matter your gender, your race, your ethnicity, your sexuality, your age, your size, the color of your eyes – you are welcome here.”

Your politics, however…Your education level…these might matter …

Seeking sanctuary with like-minded people, while a deeply understandable and very human response, is not the basis of our faith. We are called to honor the inherent worth and dignity of all in our interdependent web of existence– no matter how people vote, what they believe, or where they went to school. Liberal religion is grounded in a theology of inclusion. As Rev. Marilyn Sewell states, “at the center of our faith is not belief, but love.” Love. We are a people of covenant, a people of promise. And we promise to love one another.

During a dialogue on race and class with a group of UU volunteers in New Orleans, one group member casually mentioned the “white trash-y” trailer park area across the tracks in his midwestern home town.

I felt the term sizzle across my skin, leaving a faint contrail of anger and shame… White trash. Trailer trash. Humans who have the skin color of privilege, but few other privileges. Who often live in generational cycles of poverty, who generally have few educational opportunities. Who have had nothing for generations but their pride and their whiteness, neither of which keeps the refrigerator full or pays rent, much less a mortgage.

I remember the day I received a copy of my birth certificate, ordered for the purpose of applying for my first passport.  There, in black and white, and forever a part of my American identity:    “Place of residence at time of birth: Fort Fredericka Trailer Park.”

I am often reminded in subtle and not so subtle ways that I am welcome in Unitarian Universalism because I am the exception, not the rule of my people. I left my home state after high school, struggled through a liberal arts college education that my public education had not quite prepared me for, got a passport and studied abroad in Central America on scholarship.  Much of this was possible because my father joined the Navy at 19, put his body on the line for a chance to break the cycle of poverty and violence that he grew up in. Much of this was possible because my grandmother believed it was important to educate girls to and insisted that her daughter have the same chance to graduate from high school as her sons. It was not a question in my house whether I was going to college after high school. The only question was how I was gonna pay for it.

Without these breaks, these formational pattern changers, I would not be a Unitarian Universalist minister. The educational requirements alone for the training would have been barrier enough, let alone the cost of them…

Come, come whoever you are
We sing and we say these words from the 13th century Sufi Mystic Rumi:
Wander, worshiper, lover of leaving
Though you’ve broken your vows a thousand times
Come, yet again come

Our Unitarian legacy is tolerance, our Universalist legacy is radical salvation for all souls. How then can we reconcile the promise of our faith with the practice of our faith?

It is not faithful to write off a group of people because they do not sound like you, do not think like you, do not have the same life experiences as you. We know this to be true in the marrow of our bones. We know it and so we work on radical hospitality, begin Welcoming Congregation programs, have A Dialogue on Race and Ethnicity. And this is good, faithful work!

Please let us remember, in our stretching, that everyone means everyone. As we discern our internalized superiority and inferiority around race, gender, and sexuality, let us also remember to check our assumptions and oppressions around class and educational privilege.

We are not called to be a faith of like-minded people. We are called to worship and work together as like-hearted people – loving all of creation with compassion and curiosity.

“You need not think alike to love alike.”

Come, come, whoever you are. May you find yourself welcome here.

  • Martha C.

    As a Unitarian, I am so tired of us beating ourselves up because we are not diverse enough or that those who are “different” do not want to join us. Maybe it’s not because we are not welcoming ( I think we are.), but because they don’t like what we have to offer philosophically or intellectually. It’s very nice to be around like minded people, who agree to disagree and take delight in books, music, movies, and good old NPR. And how welcome are we in a lot of places?

    • Nan L

      Honestly, you expressed my feelings beautifully, Martha, and it was refreshing to see it posted here! (In a nod to transparency, I admit that I do fit the typical — albeit somewhat changing — UU profile. ) Two points: First, I have certainly felt ‘unwelcome’ (uncomfortable?) when I attended services & activities in other faith communities. While I believe it was NOT their intention (necessarily), I wouldn’t have presumed to expect that they’d change in any substantive way to accommodate anything other than a disability access issue. If it’s meeting the needs of the majority of their congregants (a big ‘if’, I know), I’m good with that; I’ll take what I can from the experience and then look for a better spiritual fit. Point #2: Most UUs, in my experience, SAY they honor our roots, our Judeo-CHRISTIAN roots & sources, but… but… BUT cringe at the mention of G-d, much less Jesus! Ya gotta find the ‘right’ UU fellowship to truly function as a (even culturally) Christian-UU, a near impossibility outside of the Boston environs from what I can tell… at least here in the South where you’re lucky to find one community locally (and I’m in a big city not that far from the Mason-Dixon line!). Ok, one more thing, #3: (Hey, if at all UU, I reserve the right to grow as we go along here!) What we read, listen to, and watch — at home, in ‘church’, or in the car — IS important! The vehicle (book, stereo, movie, or radio) less so, but none of those preclude diversity of topic, perspective, and/or presenter. Even good ol’ NPR — if listened to/discussed together in ‘beloved community’ — honors the “inherent worth & dignity of every person”. I’ve often had my beliefs challenged while tuned in. Can Unitarian Universalism really be ALL things to ALL people? Be a truly comfortable (the true manifestation of ‘welcoming’) yet challenging spiritual (?) home for ALL? THAT I don’t know. I am finding, however, that all too often my political/justice needs are being met, but my spiritual needs are not… all in an effort to ‘appear’ (if not ‘be’) a one-church-fits-all liberal religious community.

  • Martin

    Martha, I don’t think being unwelcoming to others is the right response to not being welcomed oneself somewhere else. Being unwelcome stings; there’s no reason to perpetuate that feeling.

    It IS nice to be around like-minded people, yes. However, I don’t think that religion is meant to be something to simply be nice. I believe it’s meant to nourish and heal one’s soul; to help one find and keep faith in the face of despair and pain; to explore and act upon values such as compassion and justice; and to inspire a deep and joyful love for the world/life. None of these require great intellectual prowess, much less a degree in higher education or accumulation of wealth. The principles say nothing of “books, music, movies, and good old NPR.” They DO talk about the “inherent worth and dignity of every person.” I believe that that religion should be challenging, rather than allowing us to create cliques because they are “nice” for the insiders.

    Also, someone in the place of privilege cannot simply say that a given group is welcoming; the people with lesser privilege can say whether or not they feel welcome. Deanna Vandiver just said that she has the repeated experience of not being welcome because of her class background. That doesn’t go away from saying that we are welcoming; it goes away from changing the behaviors that make her feel unwelcome.

    I, too, have the experience that UU isn’t quite as welcoming as it bills itself to be. I am white, come from a middle class family, and earned a Bachelor’s, so I fit in in many ways. However, now I live on welfare/disability (there isn’t a good translation for this; I live in Germany) and it has become all too clear to me how important it is to have money to fit in. Living in Germany also makes it clear how US-centric UU is, even the parts of it that claim to be international. Despite the talk of being welcoming to people of all genders, CLF, the facebook groups, etc. only have the option to check off one of two gender boxes (male and female – which are actually terms for the two most common sexes). (My gender is one of those recognized, but being transsexual makes me very aware that there are many people whose gender aren’t and there was a time where a box for “questioning” would have helped me a great deal.) Because of this, I don’t always feel welcome. It has nothing to do with me not agreeing with the philosophical/theological underpinnings of UU; my problem is the reality of UU organizations and individuals not living out those philosophical/theological ideals.

  • Martha C.

    I’m afraid I didn’t make myself clear. What I meant was that I think UU’s (at least the ones I know) are welcoming.

    I don’t want anyone to feel unwelcome. But is has to work both ways. A lot of people have issues with a church (they would put it in quotation marks) that does not have a creed, and maybe that’s why some of them feel uncomfortable.

    Just as a side issue: maybe it would be a good idea not to have any gender boxes. I stopped checking race boxes years ago. I may do stop with gender boxes next.

  • Kathleen Lehmann

    Thank you Deanna for this post.
    I think the issue of class and its resulting inequity and privilege is work that we as a denomination must do if we are to grow and be a relevant voice for change in this world. I hope that the issue will be one that delegates to GA will vote on as the study topic. I think it is critically important and we giving it only passing lip service is to our own detriment.