What are our "stinky pads"?

Rev. Dawn Cooley

So if stinky pads are evidence of effort exerted in roller derby, as I asserted in a chapter from the book I am working on that I posted on my blog last week, then what is evidence of effort exerted in our liberal religious tradition? As someone asked on my facebook page: "Where do our faithful sweat stains appear?" What a great question!

On the one hand, I see evidence of our liberal religious effort all over the place. I see it in the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, and in the plethora of opportunities that our UUA, regions and congregations provide for growing and practicing our liberal faith. Of course, just providing space is not enough – a roller derby team can provide practice times, but if no one shows up, no effort is put in. So then I wonder: Are people attending these events, workshops and opportunities provided by various liberal religious entitites? Are they showing up and putting in effort? If so, then I think that this is one way that we can see evidence of "faithful sweat stains."

But this does not seem sufficient – we need an outward component as well. I am reading Reclaiming Prophetic Witness: Liberal Religion in the Public Square, by Paul Rasor as a part of the UUA Common Read. Rasor says that a central goal of his book is to "help make liberal prophetic practice more effective by encouraging religious liberals to engage social justice issues more intentionally as religious actors." He points out that conservative religious voices are so loud that many people don't even realize there is an alternative, even though approximately a quarter of the population in the United States can be defined as religiously liberal!

So what might liberal religious effort look like in this realm – in the public square? I am reminded of a conversation I had with another Unitarian Universalist recently. She had posted something on her facebook page advocating raising the minimum wage so that it was truly a living wage. Someone with different leanings had responded along the lines of "People are paid what they are worth." She was not sure how to respond.

As I spoke with my friend, I heard Rasor's voice in my ear, and I recommended to her that she claim her liberal religious perspective. She might respond along the lines of "My faith teaches me that all people have worth and value, and that as such what we are paid is not an indicator of our value as human beings. I also believe that all people have a right to earn a wage that can support their families, as all work has value."

Along these lines, evidence of liberal religious effort might be seeing and hearing more liberal religious voices explicitely and intentional enunciating the religious dimensions of our beliefs and values in the public sphere.

But effort does not equal success. Goodness knows that some of us may work very, very hard to master a basic skill while others get it without barely trying. And some of us may never be able to master some skills. Putting in the effort does not equal success, so it may be that effort is being put in but we are not seeing the results (yet).

Coming up with the right words to claim our liberal religious convictions can be hard work, and messy. It does not come naturally to many of us. It might even be demoralizing. So I take comfort in an article from congregational consultant Dan Hotchkiss. In this article, he is talking about planning efforts, and why the first sign of planning success is that "people get less happy" and I think his words apply to almost any effort.

When we are trying to stretch ourselves, to learn a new skill such as how to be publicly liberal religious people or how to jump the apex in roller derby, we are going to make mistakes and it is going to be very uncomfortable. We will likely fall down often and put our foot into our mouths. So another piece of evidence that we are doing some heavy lifting is that we will be uncomfortable, our muscles sore and stretched in new ways. And though we might want to give up, since it hurts so much and is so embarrassing at times, this is exactly the sort of evidence of growth that indicates how much effort we are putting in. Our stinky pads, our embarrassment and familiarity with the taste of foot, become something to celebrate, because we know we are putting in the effort that just might take us to the next level.



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