On many days, usually in the middle of the evening, I get tired. Exhausted, really. When this happens, I get hurt by things which normally would just bounce off me. I have less patience. I get defensive about things which are no big deal. I have learned that when I get to this point, I have to stop looking at the computer: no reading blogs, no reading news, no email, no facebook, nothing. Because I am not at my best when I hit this point of exhaustion. Not even close.
I suspect there is a lot of this exhaustion being expressed in a discussion of a UUA holiday e-greeting that is making the rounds on facebook. Rather than get into the details of the conflict, I want to get up on the balcony and look at how we are treating one another in this discussion. Because that, my friends, is telling.
In short, someone shared that the e-greeting had hurt them. And the response was not one of sympathy or empathy, but one of defensive posturing. The people who shared how they were personally hurt were told they should not feel that way. The responses were judgmental and dismissive. It reminded me of how I feel when I break my rule and go ahead and write an email after I have hit the point of exhaustion. This discussion has not typified our best selves and, indeed, is destructive.
Tom Schade points out that we, as Unitarian Universalists, may be exhausted “as a seam of coal might be exhausted in a minining operation.” I think we are the other kind of exhausted as well – the worn out kind. I believe we are exhausted from our attempts to be perfect – perfect as individuals, and perfect as a faith tradition. And since this is a sisyphusian effort, we keep watching that boulder roll back down the hill. I am not sure how much longer we can take it.
I see the message of our failure to be perfect everywhere. We are not growing the way we “should” be. We are not attracting the “nones” the way we “should” be. We are not, we are not, we are not. The message I hear is that we are not perfect, but we “should” be. This is a lot of pressure, and it is exhausting.
In our exhaustion from never being good enough, we turn on each other. We are drawn to the familiar and hunker down with what we know. When we are challenged or confronted with difference, we lash out becuase it is yet another reminder of our imperfections.
But we are not supposed to be perfect. I learned that the hard way, too. Perfection is a noose that chokes creativitity, that chokes our relationship with ourselves, with a higher power, and with one another. And it is not our heritage! Our Universalist forbears didn’t say we had to be perfect to earn the right to be with God. We didn’t have to believe the right thing, do the right thing. Simply being was enough to earn God’s love.
If our mission is perfection, we are doomed to fail. But I don’t think that is our mission. Neither do I believe our mission as Unitarian Universalists is to be larger in numbers or have larger churches. Our mission is not to be the religion of our time, our mission is not to be a religious home for the “nones.” Our mission is not even to make sure we don’t die out. These are all perfectly fine as goals, but they must not be thought of as our mission because they are too self-serving and do nothing to ease the pain and suffering all around us and inside us.
Instead, I believe is our mission is to love the hell out of the world. This means being in relationship with the world. It means constantly expanding who “we” are. It means challenging ourselves to listen more and put down our need to be right all the time. It does not mean we will always agree – we won’t – but it means we will stay in conversation without trying to convince the other person we are right. We will stay in conversation because we will want to hear more about their story.
Loving the hell out of the world means loving each other out of hell. It means realizing how hard it is for someone to say “this hurts” and celebrating their strength and honesty rather than trying to correct them. It means being curious about why I get defensive if someone points out how I might have unintentionally hurt them. It means being aware of when I am more likely to get defensive and setting limits on myself. It means paying attention to the log/plank in my own eye rather than focusing on the speck in someone else’s eye.
Loving the hell out of the world also means not just being willing to fail but actually failing. It means eating some humble pie and getting used to saying “I am sorry” without blaming the other person. It means developing an ego and an identity that is not based on some unobtainable perfection but on our ability to be vulnerable with each other so that we might find strength in that vulnerability.
Because, dear ones, that vulnerability, not perfection, is what connects us. And I believe that in the end, it will be what saves us as well.