In my work as a teacher, I am encountering students who are caught up in our recent political turmoil to one degree or another. Two phrases often emerge in their conversations about it all and which reflect what the events of the last year are doing in them: political correctness, and freedom of speech.
Trying to stay in conversation with them, giving them my ear, my mind, my heart, listening as best I can and returning responses that I hope are responsible and thoughtful has caused me to reflect again. Fire can be brought to anything. Fire will usually effect change in the thing it’s brought to if it is hot enough. The change can be partial or total destruction. The change can be some other sort of transformation like turning raw foods into cooked meals, water into steam, and various chemical transformations like coal, over millions of years into diamonds. You can bring fire to any human commitment, and it becomes passionate response. When we sing these words this month, I want to add a cautionary to us lest we take what we sing for granted. I love this song, its music and its words. The combination always moves me and stirs up the fire of passion within me. What we take so for granted is the content of the commitment involved. Consider the words below from another perspective: My comments are in bold.
From the light of days remembered burns a beacon bright and clear
Guiding hands and hearts and spirits into faith set from from fear.
Which days are you remembering? Are they centered on that day that a friend and you went to a nearby University and listened to Milo Yiannopoulis (Yiannopoulis appeared at UGA this past year) bring his fiery passion in derogatory remarks about women, Muslims, “fat people,” the LGBTQ communities and liberal thinkers? Are you remembering that day that he called on more people to forget about how other people feel and to become more offensive in the name of freedom of speech?
When the fire of commitment sets our mind and soul ablaze
When our hunger and our passion meet to call us on our way
When we live with deep assurance of the flame that burns within
Then our promise finds fulfillment and our future can begin.
What is the content of your commitment? The fire of any commitment, even the commitment to hate and offend can set our minds and souls ablaze, can call us onto a particular path and give us assurance of a new future. To what do you trace your commitment?
From the stories of our living rings a song both brave and free
Calling pilgrims still to witness to the life of liberty.
From the dreams of youthful vision comes a new, prophetic voice
Which demands a deeper justice built by our courageous choice.
Our Unitarian Universalist commitments do have strong, deep ideas, principles and religious sources that inform our hearts as we sing this song. We are living in days right now in which we cannot afford to forget them or grow weak in reflecting on them and putting them to practice in the world. Our liberal tendency to “live and let live” will allow hate speech as freedom to burn the world down. We have a fire of commitment, too. It is very old. It is honorable. It is powerful. But only if it is not silent.
Fire can be dangerous by itself. The fire of commitment can be held and put into practice by anyone. Our commitments have content. What is the content of our commitments? When we become passionate about something, in what is it rooted? When we encounter the fire of others, from what content are they speaking and acting?
If we ever thought that being Unitarian Universalist “just means that you can believe whatever you want,” we might want to reconsider. Is there a content to Unitarian Universalist faith that is identifiable in the world, in our words and in our practices? The new disciples of Breitbart and their spokesman, Milo Yiannopoulis are clear about the content of their faith, and they see a new future.