The third principle of Unitarian Universalism as set forth in the by-laws of the Unitarian Universalist Association is the covenant to affirm and promote “Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.” In the conclusion of his essay, “Love the Contradictions,” Rev. Robert Hardies challenges individual Unitarian Universalists to take on that spiritual growth through our common struggle with the contradictions of our world and our own selves.
A question for discussion: what responsibility does an individual member of a congregation have to the larger community when it comes to spiritual growth?
The essay was printed in the UUWorld’s summer 2007 issue, from The Seven Principles in Word and Worship, edited by Ellen Brandenburg (Skinner House Books, 2007). Part one can be found here, and part two here.
community, contradiction, creativity, deepening, hope, love, Robert Hardies, spiritual practice
Love the Contradictions, pt. 3
by Rev. Robert Hardies
Let’s not be fooled by the false dilemma of whether we should focus our lives on spiritual growth or social justice, as if the two are mutually exclusive. When we frame the conversation this way, we undermine both our spiritual health and our work for justice, and we misunderstand the meaning of a world-affirming spirituality.
The moment I first understood this link between spirituality and justice was when I had the opportunity to study with Gustavo Gutiérrez, the father of Latin American liberation theology and one of the preeminent religious thinkers of the twentieth century. Gutiérrez is the priest of a large, poverty-stricken parish on the outskirts of Lima, Peru. I took a class with him just after I returned from working in Guatemala, when I was still trying to reconcile my experience there with my life in the United States. On the third day of class, a student asked Gutiérrez to explain how we, as residents of the richest country in the world, could best serve the poor in Latin America. After some silence, Gutiérrez confessed that he had always struggled with how to divide his time between being a parish priest and a theologian. Sometimes he felt guilty traveling the world giving talks and papers while his parishioners struggled just to survive. Other times, he felt frustrated that he couldn’t more broadly share liberation theology’s gospel of God’s love for the poor and oppressed. “All my life,” he said, “I’ve sought a theoretical or spiritual answer to this question of how I am to serve the poor: as a priest or as a theologian. But I haven’t found one. I simply try to find a balance between being a theologian and being a pastor. And in the midst of all the suffering—I know this might sound romantic—I try to be happy.”
“As for you,” he said to the student, “you have to find the answer for yourself.”