To Thine Own Self

My sermon last Sunday seemed to resonate with many. I want to thank those who wrote to me in response. Let me affirm that holding our hearts open through these divisive days is no small feat. It is a real spiritual discipline, for me and for many of you it seems, to remain true to ourselves and to the values we hold dear.

I have had to screen out much of the news this week. The attacks by our national leaders on yet another parent of a dead US soldier would have been unthinkable in other times. Another woman of color disbelieved, disrespected and attacked. A congresswoman of color lied about, with no hint of apology. I wonder how they justify their animosity.

Is this barrage of  deceit and abuse designed to prevent attention to the reality that our nation has military personnel stationed in some 140 nations? Divert attention to the failures that led to these deaths? Even our Senators seemed unaware that 800 US citizens wearing military uniforms are currently serving, advising and fighting in Niger, thousands more throughout West Africa.

This Sunday I will be in Washington, DC, preaching for the ordination of a new minister, an African American called to be a military chaplain. There are now more than two dozen UU ministers serving as military chaplains. This is a fairly recent and very positive development for our faith. I believe these ministers can help us ask different questions, or ask our common human questions differently. They help individuals discern what remaining true to themselves means in difficult and often dangerous circumstances.

I believe deeply that our Unitarian Universalist theology and ministerial presence can nurture the spirits of individuals in uniform. Ours is a Universalist faith.

US Army Chaplain and UU minister George Tyger wrote this reflection about the “Courage of Acceptance” from Kandahar, Afghanistan:

“Paul Tillich said, ‘The courage to be is the courage to accept oneself, in spite of being unacceptable.’ Made in the image of God, endowed with inherent worth and dignity, we are bombarded by messages that we are other than this. We are told we must be something other than ourselves to be accepted…

There is another message out there, taught by great religious prophets and teachers throughout history. That message is simply this: ‘You are accepted.’ There is nothing you need to do, or believe, or say to earn this universal, unconditional acceptance. But to really believe this in your bones, you need to find the courage to be.

You may ask, ‘The courage to be what?’ The answer is startlingly uncomplicated. You need the courage to be, just to be. Not to be this ‘thing’ or that ‘thing,’ not to be any ‘thing’ at all, but just to be, just as you are, accepted by God and yourself as a being of worth. Start with this and you will learn exactly who you are.”

I think Tyger is right. It does start with finding some way to find ourselves acceptable. I am better at this than I was years ago, but it is still a test.

Tyger ministers to soldiers who are deeply engaged in “doing.” I do not believe he is arguing for mere passive “being.” I agree with him, however, that our “doing” is more likely to bless the world if it grows out of acceptance of ourselves, rather than out of correcting some perceived but fundamental flaw in us.

The theology of original sin was such a wrong turn, not because we are perfect but because we do such harm when we do not trust the lesson that we are loved and that those we confront are loved as well.