By Reverend Rebecca M. Bryan
Republished with permission from The Daily News of Newburyport in which the column originally ran on September 22, 2023.
Every year, my congregation focuses on one theme that we explore and learn about together.
We intend that the theme both comforts and challenges us to open our minds and hearts. Our theme this church year is interconnectedness.
Interconnectedness is core to our Unitarian Universalist pluralistic faith tradition. We take Martin Luther King’s words written in his letter from the Birmingham, Alabama, jail on April 16, 1963, seriously.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
Our church is a community of seekers who care for one another and for the world around us. We do this imperfectly. Nevertheless, we persist.
Interconnectedness is beautiful and poetic, and it harkens hope. The risks of dishonoring our interconnectedness are real and present.
This summer, we have experienced extreme weather across the globe, including in Vermont, California, Florida, Hawaii, Canada, and Greece. Parts of Europe, Asia and the United States experienced unprecedented levels of excessive heat.
There are many other areas of society that illustrate the risks of denying our interconnectedness. Consider the polarization in our democracy. Fear erodes our faith and trust in “the other side” at rates that should alarm us.
The Associated Press reported this June on a study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago (David Klepper, Associated Press, June 14, 2023).
The study revealed that 90% of Americans share nine common values, regardless of their political party.
These include a government that is accountable to the people, fair and equal application of the rule of law, a government that represents the people it serves, learning from the past to improve our country, personal responsibility and accountability, and respect and compassion across differences. This is good news.
The problem is that 33% of respondents do not believe that the other party holds these common values. Trust is fearfully low. This is not going to change as long as we believe that the goal is to be “right.”
Our trust in one another will increase when we understand the reality of our interconnectedness, accept what that means, and then choose to listen and learn, while focusing on our shared common values.
The answer is not to demonize the “other” or to convince them to change their beliefs. We don’t have to agree or hold the same beliefs. Thinking so robs us of the gifts that arise out of our differences. This is about so much more than being right.
We need to realize that the future is in our hands. The well-being and future of our children and grandchildren, animals, ecosystems, the planet, and all those who live on it depend on decisions we make today.
We must go beyond “sides” to the places where we can meet in our shared values. Going beyond doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. It means we must face the realities of today and take collective action to ensure our shared common values are realized.
This reminds me of some of Rumi’s most well-known words, from his poem “A Great Wagon”.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.
We must understand what is at stake and proceed wisely. We can’t do this separately. We need one another. The future is in our collective.
The Rev. Rebecca M. Bryan is minister of the First Religious Society, Unitarian Universalist Church in Newburyport.