Monday, September 16, 2013

Reflection on Social Justice and Religion

This is the reflection I gave yesterday as a lay leader at our wonderful San Marcos Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

A few years ago, after I had children, I began to wonder what my purpose in life was. Why was I here? Was I a hedonist? Did I believe that we were only here for our own pleasure? I thought on this. I knew there was no clear, scientific answer, and that this was something I had to find my own solution for. I finally decided that I couldn’t live my life accepting that there was no rhyme or reason for my existence. I had children now, and I knew that I had to do something meaningful in my lifetime. There was so much destruction and fighting and hate and suffering all over the world. I decided that I would create meaning in my life. I would move forward with my life as though my purpose of life was to make the world around me a better place.
I knew I could donate to charities with my money and time. I knew I could get political and protest and make a change. But I knew that I needed something deeper. I needed to make these changes from within. I started exploring religion. Michael joined me in my search. While I didn’t personally believe that there was a big god in the sky who pulled the strings and orchestrated everything around me, I did believe that groups of people who pulled together and focused on love and peace could make the world a better place. I knew that religious groups often served that purpose and I looked for a group that I could join where our meditation, love and service could make the world a better place. We could make our world better for ourselves, for my children, and for all of our children.
I could have a purpose in my life and that purpose could be to spread love, find inner peace, be kind, be supportive. I believe that those qualities can spread and if they spread then love, peace and kindness could become a global epidemic.
The Dalai Lama says, “Peace starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us. When our community is in a state of peace, it can share that peace with neighbouring communities and so on. When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace. We can work consciously to develop feelings of love and kindness. For some of us, the most effective way to do so is through religious practice. For others it may be non-religious practices. What is important is that we each make a sincere effort to take seriously our responsibility for each other and the world in which we live.”
I think this is right. I know realistically, that I am going to have good days and bad days. Somedays I will forget that the world doesn’t revolve around me and mine. Most days even. But then I remember the life I am trying to live and the responsibility that I hold for others and I try again. My church and my religion help remind to make good choices. My actions can be tiny. Maybe I refrain from taking part in gossip. Or i control my temper and don’t tell at my kids. Those are good steps. And I am proud that even in my small way I am making things better around me and not worse. But there is so much more I can do and I know this.
And so I volunteer and I protest and I sign petitions. I find causes that are dear to me. I serve on boards and donate money. There is just so much work to be done. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by all the people who need help. I feel powerless because there is so much to be done and I even if I do all that I can do, it seems not to make a dent in the suffering. I worry that I am too selfish, too greedy, too self-involved and not enough.
Thicht Naht Hahn says "Many people are aware of the world's suffering; their hearts are filled with compassion.  They know what needs to be done, and they engage in political, social, and environmental work to try to change things.  But after a period of intense involvement, they may become discouraged if they lack the strength needed to sustain a life of action.  Real strength is not in power, money, or weapons, but in deep, inner peace."
Real inner peace and also the support of a group of people who feel the same way. Both of these are often both provided by our religious culture. I feel like my efforts in social justice are held up by my spiritual beliefs and the loving support of all of you. My belief in social justice is part of my religion. It may BE my religion. I believe that through social justice, we can create peace, inner and outer, for all people, and because of this, all these people can contribute and evolve and we can transcend what we are and become something better.
“The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself but the ends you serve that are for all, in common, will take you into eternity.”
― Marcus Garvey

“In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice…, the path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow man.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

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