Between Us, 2/25/2024

(I wrote this in 2016. Re-reading it during this Black History Month was helpful – as if I had written a reminder to myself check in some years later..)

I’ve heard that as we age and mature, the best we can do is replace one habit with another habit. That doesn’t sound very promising, but it certainly can be. If the habit is projecting anger on others by use of physical force, and it’s replaced with a practice of walking away and cooling down on your own, the effects are immense. If the habit is to address sorrow and grief with alcohol and drugs, and that habit is replaced by finding someone to talk and cry with instead of reaching for a bottle, the effects can be life-changing and life-giving.

Replacing destructive habits with less destructive or nurturing habits is not limited to big problems, or to those with the most intense emotional content. Often our smaller habits are what get in our way – sometimes because we can’t even see them, much less name them as habits. Racism is like this most of the time, and sexism, and ageism, and homophobia, and religious prejudices, and other similar habits. For example, simply calling our approaches to diversity ‘habits’ might be something new. It is usually quite a challenge, for any of us, to recognize that what we might think are facts about the way things are – such as “those people are……” are simply habits that we have been taught, that we have learned, that we have internalized. Why for example, do White people almost never say “I met a White person”, when we nearly always say, “I met a Black person,” as if white is an accepted and therefore unspoken norm for what a person looks like? (The reverse is true in many black-dominated cultures and societies.) Of course this represents a limited perspective, which we have definitely been taught somewhere, which we have internalized so that it is a habit. If you think this doesn’t make sense, try changing it, for at least one whole day, by describing the skin color of EVERY person you meet.

Many of us at the UUFC are challenging ourselves to be more active in living our religious values in our daily lives. We keep aiming to live in right relations with others who are of different faiths, ethnicities, persuasions, personality types, etc. Right relations sometimes requires challenging truths that others hold, and sometimes having our own truths challenged. Right relations often requires being able to hold two opposing truths in order to simply stay together. This requires going beyond our initial reactions to things and people (which give evidence of our own habits), and it is often uncomfortable. That is the work of right relations.

While he was serving as a ministerial intern at a UU congregation a few years ago, a seminary student named Ricky Klein noticed how hard this work can be for both individuals and congregations. He wrote, “The greatest challenge to counter-oppression work is that (some people want) to see greater diversity without doing the deeper soul work to understand why and what that would mean.”

Deeper soul work. Perhaps that’s what it means to replace one habit with another habit. Perhaps that’s the most important thing we can be doing, the soul work or emotional work, of understanding how our habits can both help and harm. I know this requires calling on all our resources – intellectual, spiritual, and physical – and I know from experience that it’s something I can almost never do on my own. That’s why I love being part of this congregation with you. May we continue to help one another in this work.
See you Sunday — Jill