Of all the places that we exist–in our neighborhoods, our city, our nation, even our families–the groups we may have highest expectations of may be our religious communities. This is only natural because it is in religious community that we proclaim our highest values, that we describe how we think the world really ought to be and how humans ought to operate. That’s why religious communities are more likely than other gatherings to talk about Beloved Community.
At the same time, all members of any religious community are human beings who will never fully incarnate their values–try as we might. Religious communities often get labeled as “hypocritical,” that is, not living up to their values. Hypocrisy is one of the most common reasons for people to leave their religious community. And it is unavoidable.
No community ever fully lives up to its values, just as no human being ever does. We describe our values in our mission and vision and extoll it in our Sunday services. And, we try to live up to it. Still. I often tell new members that someday, the congregation will disappoint you, maybe even break your heart, just as you may fail the congregation somehow. Every community is made up of imperfect human beings. We will fail. We will err. We will disappoint. We will break hearts.
We can’t simply shrug it off when errors, disappointments, and heartbreaks occur. So if we imagine that we are in a truly Beloved Community–where our values are centered in love for one another and nurturing the bonds among us–how do we handle being imperfect? How do we navigate a world with such high ideals and such barriers to accomplishing them?
Unitarian Universalism, with its emphasis on the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and its denial of original sin, can be challenged when it comes to accounting for the ruptures and breaks that cause so much pain and trouble in the world. Still, we believe that focusing on goodness is more likely to lead to goodness than focusing on evil or failings.
So Beloved Community becomes a model for us. However, we must never confuse the model with the reality. We must not think that because we proclaim Beloved Community, we live in it. Our community is not a perfect place to gather and grow.
Rather, our community is an imperfect place. Which, ironically, may best equip it to be a place to gather and grow. Here, we can bring our fully human, vulnerable, imperfect selves. And here we will do our best to accept all the fully human, vulnerable, imperfect selves that are brought.
It may not be Beloved Community. It may be the best we can do with what we’ve got.I am glad you are here, Beloveds. May we gather and grow together,
Contact Rev Jonalu Johnstone at email@example.com.