Sunday, August 3, 2014

Before acceptance comes curiosity

The third principle of Unitarian Universalism, acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations, has always puzzled me why "in our congregations" has been tacked on at the end of the principle. Why not "everywhere we go?" or just leaving the "in our congregations" off the statement. I suppose there is a more focused effort on acceptance and encouraging spiritual growth in our specific in-group and denomination, but it seems to me that the responsibility to acceptance and encouragement should go way beyond our church walls.

The immediate faith community is where the batteries get charged, where the juice gets made, where "marching orders" are given and proceeds outwards from there like the ripples in a pond when a rock has been thrown in with a splash but doesn't stop there until the wave generated reaches the banks.

Of course, it is hard to accept other people until we can accept ourselves. As Rev. Carolyn Owen-Towle writes in With Purpose and Principle, "The most difficult, yet first task, is to accept ourselves. Acceptance comes easily when we receive it from infancy. It takes intentional effort, when we have to develop it later in life." p.47 People can't give what they don't have, can't share what they haven't experienced themselves. It seems a paradox to consider trying to give something to others to receive it ourselves, but what we do for others we also do for ourselves because the other is also part of us, and if we were to deeply understand the idea that we are all one, part of what the Perennial Philosophers call the "Unitive Godhead",  the third principle would not be necessary.

However, we are imperfect, still on the road to enlightenment, and so we must develop the understanding and skills to treat others as they prefer to be treated. This presumes we know them well enough to know what it is they prefer: their values, opinions, beliefs, practices, history. The practice of acceptance and encouragement begins with curiosity about the other. Are we interested in their story? Do we have the time and discipline to listen? When we do, people feel respected, validated, valued, yes, accepted and encouraged.

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