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Finding the strength to remain present

As I write, it is two months since the September 11 attacks. The shock has begun to fade. But the grief, the anger, and the uncertainty remain. And now there are new horrors.

 William G. Sinkford; photo by Nancy Pierce
Each day we are bombarded with images of war in Afghanistan, with the United States on the attack in an impoverished country in Central Asia. Will there be more anthrax infections and more deaths? Travelers face long lines at airports and there is a greater police and military presence on our streets than we can remember. The U.S. economy has been rocked. We now know how fragile our prosperity and our illusion of safety truly are.

How can we live with terror, day in and day out, as we must? What resources does Unitarian Universalism offer us? How will this period in our national life change us all?

This issue of UU World tells stories of how some of our congregations have responded to the attacks. Our support for one another has manifested itself in many ways. A wall at the First Unitarian Society of Plainfield, New Jersey, is covered with index cards on which members recorded what they lost, what they were feeling, and what they needed. The wall is called "Our Shared Grief." One member wrote: "I find myself searching for understanding of a life filled with such despair."

The good news is that Unitarian Universalism has supported me, and you, in ways no one needed to imagine a scant few months ago. Our respect for the wisdom of all the world's great religious traditions made our outreach to the Muslim community not only necessary, but credible. Our affirmation of the inherent worth and dignity of every person grounded our resistance to profiling and harassment of our Arab and Arab-looking neighbors. Our commitment to a global community with peace, liberty, and justice for all led us to raise questions about our national policies. Our recognition of the interdependence of the human family has helped us know that there is a single destiny for the human family on this small blue planet. Resolutions approved by our General Assembly over the years have grounded my statements and our witness, and at its October meeting the UUA Board of Trustees voted to reaffirm the relevance of our resolutions to these uncertain times. (The resolutions themselves, and more details, are available on the UUA's Web site, at www.uua.org/news/91101/board.html.)

But as hard as we have worked, and as well as we have ministered, our test is not over. By the time you read this, there may well have been more terrorist attacks. The war in Central Asia, sadly, will all but certainly have intensified. And the U.S. economy may not move rapidly into recovery.

Our task, as religious people, is not to give in to denial or despair. Hundreds of millions of people around the world live with fear each day of their lives. We are learning in our sorrow that we are not unlike them, after all. There are many opinions within our movement about the proper way to bring about a world of peace and justice, but our task is certainly not to argue with one another about which of us is right. We cannot find perfect solutions. Our task, put simply, is to be present — to ourselves, to one another, and to our world.

In the words of the Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, co-minister of First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto: "The central task of the religious community is to unveil the bonds that bind each to all. The religious community is essential, for alone our vision is too narrow to see all that must be seen, and our strength too limited to do all that must be done. Together our vision widens and our strength is renewed."

May we find the strength to remain present. May we always remember that our liberal voice is needed in these troubled times. And may we know the blessing of this community in our lives.

In faith,
President, Unitarian Universalist Association

UU World XVI:1 (January/February 2002): 5.

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