|First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor|
Why was I holding back? Indeed, why does anyone hold back from entering into or committing to a community?
And people do hold back. Organizational memberships in all sorts of organizations are down. People are passionate about political causes but don't join organizations. Church membership is declining. We talk about the "Spiritual But Not Religious" and the religiously unaffiliated as a growing group. Yet a majority of those who identify themselves as one of the "nones" still believe in God. Maybe they just don't want to join anything.
He noticed that in the advice columns there were more letters asking when and how to get out of a relationship than how to get into one. I verified this fact in the advice columns in the Boston Globe.
This was the clue that led him to conclude that it was fear of ending relationships and being unable to get out of communities that motivated our caution about entering into them.
I connect this with the concept of self-differentiation: ability to stay in relationship when differences arise. Edwin H. Friedman calls it self-differentiation, but Francis David said long ago when he said that "we need not think alike to love alike."
William Ellery Channing calls it having a "Free Mind" and self-possession. His inspired articulation of the free mind is a part of a sermon called "Spiritual Freedom" (1830) in which he equates freedom with self-possession. Today we say that freedom is self-determination. And that freedom is essential to having the confidence to make deep connections.
To put it simply, although we are embedded in many relationships and communities already, we can make a conscious commitment to them only when we are confident in our ability to manage our selves in those relationships. Without self-possession, our choices seem to be only enmeshment or independence. Enmeshment is being over-committed and feeling obligated by the relationship, unable to say no to other's demands, being dominated by the community, losing one self in a group. Independence is just that, staying independent of the relationship, and missing all of its benefits of shared purposeful work, friendship, support and love.
My message is that you probably already have the skills and resources to manage your self in relationships and community. When I think about it, of course, my caution about entering into a new congregation is an ingrained habit that I carry around with me.
You have within yourself the tools and skills to manage your relationships in the church and elsewhere.
The power of saying no.
The resilience to weather other people’s disapproval.
You have the resilience to handle negative feedback. You can handle the fact that if you enter into a relationship with people of another race, or religion, that you might well make some mistakes and embarass yourselves, but you can handle it.
You don’t have to go on every guilt trip that people suggest.
You do not have to have and you will never get a guarantee that every thing you do will turn out well, but your ability to improvise, to respond in the moment, to listen and learn are all that you need to have to go on the journey.
As A. A. Milne writes:
You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
But you have to name and face your fears. The problem with privilege (playing the game of life on the easiest difficulty level -- is that you don’t have to conquer your fears to have some, many of your dreams come true. -- and so none of your biggest dreams will ever come true, including your dreams of community and relationships and love.
Liberal Religion is the way of spiritual freedom. The truth that we believe we know is that self-possession and spiritual freedom are linked and are the pre-condition of any sort of progress and spiritual growth.
Channing says that the free mind is one that "protects itself against the usurpations of society and which does not cower to human opinion: which refuses to be a slave of the many or of the few."
Seen from that perspective, freedom is still a live issue, the unfulfilled aspiration of most people in the world. For most people, the song "I Wish I know how it would feel to be free" describes a deep longing.
I wish I knew how it would feel to be free of the limited view of life that comes from my limited experience in the world.
I wish I knew how it would feel to be free of the psychological habits, and compulsions and obsessions that I carry through life.
I wish I knew how it would feel to be free of my silly fears and subtle inhibitions.
And so many others: they wish they knew how it would feel to be free of harsh economic necessity: they wish they knew how it would feel to be free of the boxes, the profiles, that others put them in because of their race, or appearance, or gender expression, or their physical abilities.
For many, many, many people, they wish they knew how it would feel to be free from the threat of violence.
They wish, and I wish, that we knew how it would feel to be free: to be confident and self-empowered to enter into rich social relationships with others, into deep community.
Freedom, a world of freedom, free people joined into free associations, communities that empower freedom: these are still the shining goals of our movement. Not just for the middle classes, for people like us, but for everyone, the whole human family.