Wednesday, December 2, 2009

On Our Principles

In her recent UU World reflection, Meg Barnhouse exhorts Unitarian Universalists to approach the Seven Principles in a more concrete, embodied way. Try attaching “beginning in our homes and congregations” to each line, she commends practitioners. Extending her own advice, she finally arrives at the following observation: "If I start with my own heart, the demands of our Principles get even heavier. Peace and compassion in my heart? Justice too? Freedom as well?"

It is often easier and, hence, more enchanting to treat the Principles as abstractions, as lofty ideals. I admire Barnhouse's desire to re-focus our attention on the immanent and urgent messiness of being-in-the-world. Interestingly, her intuition that the demands of justice begin in "my own heart" resonates with Francis Greenwood Peabody's compelling assertion that "the individual and the kingdom grow together." For Peabody, Jesus addresses the individual in an attempt to reanimate the social: "The kingdom is to come, answers Jesus, not by outward force or social organization or apocalyptic dream, but by the progressive sanctification of individual human souls." Martin Buber shares this orientation as well: Political uprisings “are futile and bound to be self-destructive so long as a new structure of genuinely communal human life is not born out of the soul’s renewal."

It is no accident, thus, that the Seven Principles begin with the individual and conclude with the collective. As Peabody suggests: "the social order is not a product of mechanism but of personality, and that personality fulfils itself only in the social order."

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1 comment:

Bill Baar said...

...messiness of being-in-the-world

Messy as the world is, life is sweet; I'd hate to be out of it instead.