Thursday, February 18, 2010

If I Were a Real UU...

A homily for Lent.

Delivered, Ash Wednesday, 2010
Valley Vespers, Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills

Christmas Day. Thanksgiving. Fourth of July. I don’t know if Ash Wednesday is anybody’s favorite holiday.

There's no bunnies painting colored eggs. There's no groundhog looking for his shadow. There’s no Ash Wednesday equivalent of Santa Claus; that’s for sure. Perhaps the Lenten Santa Claus would come down your chimney and then deliberately track fireplace ashes across your living room carpet in the shape of a cross.

There is no Lenten wreath on the door or Lenten lights on the roof. I don’t think they sell strings of grey holiday lights. There are no presents. There’s no special food. In fact, you’re supposed to give up special foods. It’s the holiday where it’s better to give up than recieve. It’s the anti-holiday: the holiday where you can re-use the Christmas cards you got two months ago by crossing out the word “Joy” and sending them back to your friends marked postage due.

Mardi Gras gives us parades and dancing and drinking. Then, against the drunken fun of Fat Tuesday, Lent stretches out like a 40-day hangover. Except, instead of guilt for one night’s drinking we’re get guilt for all our sins. Instead of a headache that merely feels like death, we supposed to spend 40 days contemplating actual death. Instead of a half-hearted oath to never drink again, that’s forgotten by Saturday, we’re supposed to give up some joy that makes life fun from now all the way until Easter.

Lent’s no party. Spiritually Lent can seem like a worthless downer. Why bother? Unitarian Universalists focus on the gifts of the spiritual life: the abundance, not the privations; the ecstatic, not the miserable. Our faith encourages us to enumerate our capabilities and inherent worth and dignity, not our sins and failures.

But there is something important to Lent. Though not my favorite holiday, I have come over the last few years, to respect and value the Lenten season as an important stage of a yearly spiritual cycle. Even without the fun of presents and decorations and a big holiday meal, even with a focus on mortality and where we’ve fallen short. Even with the sobriety and seriousness, and maybe even with a reminder of death smeared across the forehead on Ash Wednesday, the season of Lent is not a worthless downer, but a valuable spiritual step forward and upward.

Here is what Lent offers the spiritually serious.

For 40-days, each year, a season to observe who you really are as a human being, and remember who you are really called to be. 40-days to do some sober self-reflection. A chance to ask, Where am I on my spiritual trip? How am I doing on my task of growing a soul? If the Unitarian Universalist spiritual path asks us to achieve salvation for ourselves by being the perfected people that we can be, how are we doing? 40 days to remind yourself that you are after all a mortal being and that your time on earth is limited. 40 days to notice what you’ve really done, so far, with this one life you’ve been given. 40 days to be honest about your short-comings, while you’ve still got a chance to work on them.

You might find it helpful to give up something for Lent. That’s a helpful way to remind you to keep pushing forward on the self-reflection work that the season is supposed to be about. I prefer, instead, most years, to add something for Lent, to take up some spiritual practice, like journaling, or reading, or exercise, or meditation; or to learn some new skill that will help move me toward becoming that person that I want to be.

The bottom line Lenten question, for every Unitarian Universalist, is, “What would a real Unitarian Universalist look like, and do I look like that guy?” What would my life look like if I really lived by the principles that I proclaim each Sunday? What would my relationships look like if they were founded on justice and compassion? How diligently am I searching for truth and meaning? How am I participating in the democratic process in my congregation and society at large? How would I spend my days if I more completely contributed my life to the goal that is the goal of my faith: a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all?

40 days isn’t actually a very long time to create a vision of what a real UU life would look like for me, and honestly assessing the life I’ve created so far, and notice the difference between my current life, and the life I feel my faith calls my to lead. And then to put together an action plan with some concrete steps for change, and maybe learn a new skill, that will get me from here to there.

40 days from today, not counting Sundays, we’ll arrive at Easter, the holiday of new life. Easter comes with a miracle of re-birth, of a re-awakening to a new reality, of a new chance at life after we thought the old life was finished for us. If we do nothing between now and then, then the Easter miracle is the kind of empty fiction rational UUs often accuse if of being. It’s just magic, and superstition, and might be temporarily uplifting without being really transforming.

But if we take the 40 days of Lent between now and then seriously, if we do our work, if we commit to our practice, if we name the changes we want to make and we do what we need to do to make the changes really possible, then our Easter can be earned. We can have an Easter we deserve. We can celebrate a new life at Easter that isn’t just a myth and a miracle, but is the lived truth and the new reality of who we are.


Robin Edgar said...

Well said Ricky.

Now if only UUA President Peter Morales and other top level UUA administrators can gather up the moral courage and personal integrity to spend the next 40 days working towardd providing some genuine and tangible restorative justicce for ALL victims of U*U clergy misconduct as I suggested in this "electronic communication" that I sent to President Morales as Ash Wednesday came to a close.

I am giving up being patient with UUA administrators for Lent. . .

Ash Wednesday February 17, 2010

Dear President Morales,

As you are no doubt aware today is Ash Wednesday, a day dedicated to repentance of sins of commission and sins of omission. I am going to forgive your sin of omission of apparently failing, if not refusing, to stand on the side of love of victims of UU clergy misconduct during the first observance of 'National Standing on the Side of Love Day' last Sunday, and I will also forgive you for failing to provide the acknowledgement of receipt of the email that I sent to you over two weeks ago now asking you to take steps to ensure that the UUA repents of its sins of commission and sins of omission in its past, if not present and ongoing, dismissive and negligent responses to all kinds of clergy misconduct complaints. I will none-the-less take this opportunity to remind you that only yesterday Pope Benedict XVI called upon Roman Catholic bishops to give priority to "restoring the Church's spiritual and moral credibility" with respect to clergy sexual misconduct on the part of Roman Catholic clergy and will ask you when you will begin the process of restoring the spiritual and moral credibility of the Unitarian*Universalist religious community with respect to ALL forms of clergy misconduct, both clergy sexual misconduct and non-sexual forms of clergy misconduct?

I believe that the suggestions that I made in my email of Tuesday February 2nd are quite reasonable, and fully compatible with the purported principles and claimed ideals of the Unitarian Universalist religious community. I see no valid reason why you should not respond positively to my requests, or indeed my reasonable demands, for the UUA to stand on the side of love for ALL victims of ALL forms of UU clergy misconduct and to finally begin to provide some genuine and tangible restorative justice for ALL victims of clergy misconduct that has been directly perpetrated by UU ministers and indirectly perpetuated for years (and even decades) by the unjust, unfair, and uncompassionate dismissive and negligent responses to numerous clergy misconduct complaints by past and current UUA administrators.

Robin Edgar said...

While I realize that dealing with the UUA's shameful legacy of negligent, and effectively complicit, responses to all kinds of clergy misconduct complaints is an unpleasant task that your predecessors as UUA President could have (and should have) responsibly dealt with years ago, it is an unfortunate fact of life that they have repeatedly failed to do so in a genuinely just, equitable, and compassionate manner that respects the worth and dignity of victims of clergy misconduct and honors and upholds UU principles and ideals. In fact last year I asked one of the UUA's clergy misconduct experts what restorative justice the UUA had provided to victims of clergy misconduct since promising to do so about a decade ago at the 2000 UUA GA in Nashville Tennessee and their answer was one single four letter word -


Even if this blunt negative assessment is something of an overstatement, something that I am not convinced is the actually case, there is very little evidence of the UUA providing any restoratve justice to victims of clergy misconduct in the last decade to say nothing of before it. . . If some bona fide restorative justice has in fact been done by the UUA it certainly has not been seen to be done since the UUA's official apology in 2000. So I must once again ask you to make it a very high priority for the UUA to publicly repent of its numerous sins of commission and sins of omission in terms of its past (if not current and ongoing) negligent or inadequate responses to clergy misconduct of all kinds, and to ensure that genuine and tangible restorative justice for ALL victims of UU clergy misconduct is not only finally done by the UUA, but is very publicly seen to be done in the first year of your presidency.

Please do not persist in the sin of omission of failing or refusing to respond to my emails in a timely and responsible manner. If I do not receive an adequate response from you within the next week or two at the very latest I will have little choice but to conclude that you not only refuse to stand on the side of love for me and other victims of UU clergy misconduct but are a knowing and willful participant in the egregious marginalizing institutional stonewalling and denial that I and far too many other victims of UU clergy misconduct have been subjected to by the UUA and implicated UU churches for years and even decades.

Although I had not thought of this idea until today, perhaps you could devote an hour or two per day to this important issue for at least the next 40 days as a kind of Unitarian Universalist Lenten practice. The mid-March Ministerial Fellowship Committee meeting, and the upcoming UUA Board of Trustees meeting in April, could be (and I believe should be) largely devoted to a genuinely repentant self-assessment of the UUA's and MFC's sins of commission and sins of omission in terms of their past (if not ongoing) dismissive and/or negligent and/or inadequate responses to ALL kinds of clergy misconduct complaints. An official apology to victims of non-sexual forms of clergy misconduct is long overdue and I personally believe that the UUA should deliver such an official apology at the 2010 UUA General Assembly this June.


Robin Edgar