Return Again: Our Principles-3

In Unitarian-Universalism, we gather ourselves and our faith around seven Principles. Our Principles are not religious dogma in content.  They are ethical principles in that they embody rather explicitly the things we value.  They allow us to bring stories and content both religious and otherwise to them to help us reflect on how to live their wisdom.  As such, they are or can be points of return for us. I think of points of return as those places, ideas, people and memories to which we return to find our center, to find our moorings, to find the clarity we need in order to make decisions, to move forward, to create.

3rd Principle: Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations

Our third principle implies something that perhaps religious organizations are apt to overlook:  spiritual growth and development in human beings implies relationships and in particular this relationship is founded in acceptance.  Religious traditions tend to use the language of love and unconditional love to express this foundational relationship. Religious institutions tend towards a catch 22 in these matters.  They hold that love, unconditional love, is foundational to the spiritual life and to spiritual growth, but then fall into the practice of judging human beings through their religious doctrines and dogma. The message sounds like this in so many words:  “We love you but . . .”  With that little word “but” the unconditional quality of love disappears and often so does the possibility of spiritual growth.

Spiritual growth, we say in Unitarian Universalism, is founded on acceptance of one another. No acceptance?  No spiritual encouragement and growth.  This does not mean that we always get it right.  We are as prone as others to overlook this central practice of the spiritual life.  Human beings yearn to be accepted, to be included in community, to be “members of the club” as some say.  When, however, our starting place is in the act of acceptance of one another, we are much more likely to be open to encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.

We can imagine two images.  In the first, one person says to another:  if you know what’s good for you, you will walk down that path over there, not the one you are on.  You’ve got it all wrong.  By the way, you cannot wear those shoes.  No one wears those shoes on the right path.  If you are going to keep wearing those shoes, then forget it.  You’ll never make it.

In the second, one person says to another:  Welcome, friend.  Let’s go for a walk.  Hey, I’ve never seen shoes like that.  Tell me about them.

We will have opportunities today to practice acceptance and perhaps even to encourage spiritual growth.  It begins with acceptance.

Bob Patrick

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