by Rev. Dr. Stephen H. Furrer
January takes its name from Janus, the Roman god of the doorway. Two-faced, he became the god of beginnings; hence, January. Janus looks backward to the year past and forward to that ahead. In the hope the coming year is a good one, we and our forebears have for generations made New Year’s resolutions: how can we be more loving, wholesome, fair, honest, kind? How can we more responsibly provide for our loved ones? More integrally impact our community, our nation, our planet? How can we be healthier? More genuine? More prosperous? More successful?
As we make personal resolutions, sometimes, we make collective ones. How can the East Shore Unitarian Church become more welcoming—to the young, to more non-Europeans, and to a broader spectrum of the community? How can we be more loving and supportive to those of us already here? Better-natured and more joyful? Can we be more widely known across the area as a voice of progressive religion? Are we a religion of activists? Or are we, rather, a religion that affirms and encourages activism for those whose religious values are so inspired, but that also encourages other forms of spiritual practice?
As the rise of well-funded obstructionists on the Right makes clear, America’s progressive tradition is threatened. Our Unitarian Universalist faith has a historic connection and commitment to America’s democratic institutions. Most of us—most Americans probably—have a tendency to reduce these institutions, in our minds, to civics book diagrams. And to reduce our democratic activity, in terms of commitment, to voting and making contributions. Democracy, however, is much more than that. It’s bigger than that; it’s an organic, living passion for self-determination. And a willingness to share that passion. And, when necessary, to fight for it.
The exact same insights that inspired our 17th and 18th century forebears to establish free churches like ours later informed our national mission, a mission most fully enshrined (it’s always seemed to me) in the Declaration of Independence. Later still—1787—many of those same insights became the foundation of our Constitution. But if liberal “city on a hill” hope for a “more perfect union” is one engine driving America, the commercial quest for profit has been another. From the beginning, our country’s history has been driven by both: idealism and commerce. Historically, Unitarian Universalists have tended to embrace the spirit of both. When forced, however, to choose one over the other (as during the years immediately preceding and including the American Revolution and the Civil War), we’ve also tended to go with our idealism.
Of Janus, it is said that his temple in the Roman Forum faced both east and west; it was open in time of war and closed in time of peace. Needless to say, it would be open today. However one feels about the current global situation and our government’s determined, all-too-often-unilateral hand in shaping it, we can all agree, it seems to me, on a few things. First, we can agree that the democratic process is a good thing. And that maintaining it, sometimes, requires more than only voting and contributing funds. Democracy is not something that, once established, is henceforth secure. Democracy is always up for grabs. It’s always up to the current generation to insist on it. And make it happen. I believe that whatever one’s political inclinations, it’s a duty of citizenship to consider the critical issues confronting our communities and our country, to consider these matters in light of Unitarian Universalism’s tradition of religio-political idealism, and to participate.
We can also agree that democracy begins at home. We need to make strides to ensure—throughout the coming year—that our congregation is a place of care and kindness to everyone, whatever their particular political views. People don’t attend church because they’re looking for correctly-thinking like-minded defenders—at least not in our tradition. They attend because they’re looking for a community of full-hearted and open-minded would-be friends. Friends with whom we like to agree, but whom we like—better yet love—whether we agree with them or not.
Finally, we can agree that passion is a good thing. Tempered by our reason, our wholesome tradition, and our care for one another. Let 2020 be a wonderful year for each of you! And for ESUC!
Yours in faith, Steve