This past Sunday, the congregation was packed for Unitarian Universalist Day! It coincided with our New Member Ceremony when we welcomed 13 adults and 5 children to our membership, a newcomer-friendly worship service, and Bring a Friend to Church Sunday. I brought my friend Esma Ali of Arcadia, and she also brought her mother, and friend. Esma and I have been friends since 2010, when I met her at a mosque in San Gabriel for “Open Mosque Day” – an event similar to our own. We’ll soon invite Esma back to talk about Women and Islam, a wonderful program she offers.
The idea for this service was our new Membership Chair Bill Weber’s, and I thank him, as pretty much everyone stayed for lunch afterward and enjoyed each other’s company, newcomers and members of many years breaking bread together. But there was one section of the worship service for which we ran out of time, our “UU Testimonials,” of why some individuals are UU and I was going to put in my two cents, too. I purposefully didn’t put the Rev. before my name in this list because it was a chance for me to talk about why I’m UU, aside from my profession as a parish minister. Here’s my spiel since we ran out of time!
I credit growing up UU with teaching me at a fairly young age that our morals and character traits are things that we choose to acquire – we must intend it, and it must come from the heart. This sense of self-initiative has always been empowering for me, throughout my life, in good times, and bad.
For example, I can’t develop integrity, without knowing what it is and what it looks like, trying it on for size, and making mistakes, evolving and growing stronger along the way. Who we are is the sum of our choices about the values we live by. The same goes for honesty and compassion, and my most treasured spiritual value, humility, which I cannot credit UU for teaching me, I only came by it later in life due to my studies and attempted emulations of Jesus of Nazareth, who I consider a prophet, like the Buddha, like Mohammed, or Dr. King.
But this is why I am UU! Because we support the free and responsible search for truth, I have always been free to study the sacred scriptures of the ages, as well as the wisdom of our pagan and aboriginal roots, just like I have been free to gain a deeper understanding about Islam, through meeting Muslims, building friendships, and attending their worship hour.
This is one reason I’m so excited to be deepening my ministry with this congregation, because it means I get to be a UU in Los Angeles! – where there is this profusion of different faith traditions, and a proximate mosaic of cultures. UUs are encouraged to learn about the world as a method to develop us as people of faith, so that, the more we understand, the more wisely we can focus on the most important things, which often are whatever it is we do to make our communities and the world a better place.
I’m a UU because it’s one of the most important religious obligations we put out there: we honor the gift of life by giving back, and it turns out to be the secret to living a good life in itself!
Right now, my giving back looks like the volunteer work I do in Pasadena to help make direct organizing more effective, in the areas of police reform, affordable housing, ensuring a livable wage, and immigrant rights.
It’s hard work, but it’s a labor of love, so I stick with it. This is also why I’m a UU – at the end of the day, it’s about looking back on each day, and being grateful for all the times we acted in service to love, compassion, understanding, and justice. And at the end of a life, it’s about looking back and realizing all the ways you are going to live on after you’re gone, in the good acts that you did, through the people that you loved well, whom will pass on your good will.
“Deeds, not creeds”: that’s a popular UU statement that describes us Unitarian Universalists very well – but you can study those creeds as much as you want, for we know they contain the wisdom of the world – not all of it, but some of it. The closest we come to a creed is our Principles, and our Sources, which you may find in the very first pages of our hymnals.
I could go on and on about why I’m a UU, but those are the highlights!
See you in church!
– Rev. Hannah