I typically use these monthly posts to reflect a bit on the Soul Matters theme for the month, but over the summer, there are no Soul Matters themes. Ministers and congregations must choose their own topics to explore independently. That can be freeing! But I’ll be honest – I like the sense of community that comes from a shared focus with many different congregations throughout the country. Even when a monthly theme doesn’t resonate strongly with me as an individual, I appreciate how it connects me to our larger faith tradition.
As we approach our nation’s Independence Day, I’ve been thinking about how we UUs relate to the concept of independence. We highly value independent thought. UUs are free to explore and develop our own theology. We do not have a creed one must recite to become a member. Many of us were first attracted to this tradition because it allows us to follow our individual religious paths freely. But can independence become an idol, an unhealthy object of worship? The United States was formed by people seeking independence from another country, and its citizens have expressed fears about losing independence ever since. We see how that has played out in the pandemic, with individuals insisting on their right to independently decide whether to wear a mask or host large gatherings, business owners insisting on their right to independently decide whether to stay open, the decision to leave each state to independently find equipment for health care workers, and a vaccine rollout that left individuals to independently navigate a complicated system.
I think we can also see this playing out in our congregations. When I think about the congregations I have encountered, I recognize many instances where the value of independence needed some balancing – Times when small groups didn’t understand how their work related to the mission of the congregation as a whole, times when people left a group (or the church) because they didn’t personally like a decision that was made. And these aren’t just problems for UUs! They are common occurrences in many faith groups. But I think we as UUs may be particularly prone to them because we so value independence.
Early in my formation as a UU, somebody pointed out to me that our 1st and 7th Principles serve as counterweights to one another. The 1st Principle calls us to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. The 7th Principle calls us to affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence. We are valued as individuals AND as part of a collective whole. We are independent AND interdependent. Let us take time this month to think about how we relate to both independence and interdependence in our families, our church, our community, our country, and our world.
In Faith, Rev. Jenn