The theme this month is “Renewing Faith.” Faith is an ambiguous word, like “spirit” and “love,” difficult to define and yet, like pornography, you generally know it when you see it, or in this case experience it. In this month’s Soul Matters material for small group ministry (a link to which is found below) Ernie Jones’s Quora answer to the question “What are the origins of the word ‘faith’?” is quoted. I like his answer and so I share it now with you:
“Faith didn’t enter the language until the 1200’s after the Norman invasion, via the Old French feid – in turn from the Latin whence also semper fidelis (always loyal) – but its meaning then had nothing to do with belief in the absence of evidence, but rather with keeping promises and being worthy of trust.”
Our Soul Matters material offers quotes on faith made by many different people from many different backgrounds. I remember hearing a minister say to the congregation she served that Unitarian Universalists are a people of faith. At the time, I wondered what she meant. While I remain a theist of sorts, I know that many UUs are atheists and even more are agnostic. Having been raised in a Christian church and then living in a Jewish community, I always associated the word “faith” as applied to congregations to mean “belief in God” and that the use of the phrase “other faith traditions” or “other faith communities” meant people with different ways of understanding and pleasing God. And, I expect that I am right about that.
What this UU minister was communicating to the congregation was something different, though. She was saying that we, as Unitarian Universalists, understand the importance of keeping our promises and of being trustworthy. We are, after all, a covenantal community. Faithfulness in these terms are foundational to our ability to take care of each other and have a positive impact on the world. For example, it is our faithfulness to the first principle (affirming and promoting the inherent worth and dignity of every person) that leads us to work for equity and justice for those on the margins of society.
So, yes we are a people of faith. Taking time to renew our faith is important, necessary even, for our continued survival. Given the tragic violent war now taking place in Ukraine, we might ask ourselves what is our commitment to peace? What are the parameters of our understanding of peace in the face of violence? How might we be faithful to peace when confronted with war? These are difficult and age-old questions.
I suggest that we begin with ourselves and with our own interpersonal relationships. A.J. Muste was an ordained minister and trade union activist who said that “the way of peace is a seamless garment that must cover the whole of life and must be applied to all its relationships.”
The most significant relationship we have, of course, is the one we have with ourselves. Muste distinguished himself by regularly holding a solitary vigil for peace in front of the White House. He would just stand there holding a candle. A reporter once asked him “Do you really think you are going to change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night in front of the White House with a candle?” It is said that Muste replied softly “Oh, I don’t do this to change the country. I do this so that the country won’t change me.”
There is much to resist that is harmful in the world. Have faith. Take heart in the courage of civilian Ukrainians in defending themselves against the Russian assault. Find comfort in the support that NATO and non-NATO countries are offering to Ukraine. Do not dismay. As Ross Gay, a black author, poet, and professor reminds us:
“The point is that in almost every instance of our lives we are, if we pay attention, in the midst of an almost constant, if subtle, caretaking. Holding open doors. Offering elbows at crosswalks. Letting someone else go first. Helping with the heavy bags. . . Pulling someone back to their feet. Stopping at the car wreck, at the struck dog. . . This caretaking is our default mode and it’s always a lie that convinces us to act or believe otherwise. Always.”
Rev. Lee Anne
You may access the Soul Matters small group materials here:
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