As I write this, the UUA has just announced its intent to sell our historic headquarters at 25 Beacon St in Boston, a location we’ve held since 1927. You can hear the whole story of this big decision here.
I was just visiting “25,” as it is affectionately known, a few weeks ago, and the mixed feelings about the impending move were tangible. Our history is literally in the walls, and our traditions are embedded in the architecture. And yet, as the staff says: it sure would be nice to have modern conveniences like, say, reliable heating.
Perhaps not unintentionally, the UUA Headquarters will be moving from this traditional building to a neighborhood known as the Innovation District. This is especially fun given that our 16th century religious forebear, Francis David, was tried and convicted for the religious heresy termed “Innovation.”
As I reflected in our March 10th worship service, that we do not consider ourselves a “tradition-bound” faith does not shield us from experiencing an emotional reaction to such big changes in long-held practices and ways of being. And yet, how we react to these changes varies widely.
For every person who grieves the loss of our historic location and wonders if this will be yet another move away from our historic roots, there is another who decries our idolizing of the past and our wasteful attachment to an old and expensive building.
In our March 10th worship service, we explored our relationship to tradition, and I asked: What is one of our traditions that matters to you?And how does that tradition make you feel?The congregation wrote their responses, and then next to their answer, they wrote a happy face or a sad face, or a neutral face - to indicate how the tradition makes them feel.
Just as with the move from 25 Beacon, our reactions to these traditions vary widely, with the same tradition yielding sad faces from some and happy faces from others. We are a faith tradition that affirms many different beliefs and spiritual paths,and so this will perhaps always be the case, even more so than in other denominations.
As a Unitarian Universalist minister, I am often asked how I can hold all these differences: How can you choose what to put in an order of services?! And often after that question, comes a more pressing one: how is it that we, as members of a Unitarian Universalist congregation, can hold these differences? What should we do about the fact that the same thing that brings my neighbor deep satisfaction, makes me want to crawl out of my skin?
I have two responses. First, as I reflected in the worship service, we hold these differences by receiving our tradition as a gift, such that it can become a source for dynamic and creative interchange with our present realities. Through this interchange, we construct our living faith for the future. Living in this dynamic dialogue between past and present, with humble openness to wherever truth may lie, allows us to experience these tensions and contrasting experiences not as a problem, but as a wonderful representation of truth: Human beings are not simple. Our reactions to things are not simple. There is no single right answer. Truth is ever-unfolding, and revelation isnot sealed.
Second, and just as importantly, is to receive these contrasting experiences as an opportunity to practice hospitality. That is, to realize the deepsatisfaction possible when we see our neighbor rejoicing, feeling at home, feeling like they belong. To reach a level of spiritual maturity where I am authentically grateful that our practice includes atradition that offers you comfort, and to stay open to that feeling of joy you are experiencing, even if it isn’t a practice that naturally brings me joy. Hospitality is a core value in our covenantal faith, and our contrasting experiences allow us to put this value into practice.
Claiming our past as a gift in intentional relationship with our present, and practicing hospitality as we encounter differences allow us toengage our diversity of experiences not with anxiety, but with compassion and mutual respect. And, as our covenant suggests, allows us to seek the truth, in love.