Meaning in the Mess

Meaning in the Mess

Recently I was talking with a therapist and coach who has been working with Unitarian Universalist clergy – including me – for a long time, but who is not intimately familiar with our tradition. She asked a question about hierarchy that left me fumbling to explain our non-hierarchical organizational systems – in our congregations and the broader association – that grant authority in a variety of ways, but not usually in ways that are tidy or linear or hierarchical.

Clumsily, I articulated the inherent messiness in how we make decisions and manage conflict and share resources. As I spoke, I was surprised to notice my unspoken, but no less real, defensiveness about it. Not that she was judging me or us, but I’ve been around long enough to know that there are plenty of people – both within Unitarian Universalism and outside of it – who criticize the informality of our form, the lack of a shared specific theology, the explicit open-endedness of our religious exploration.

I stopped for a moment to determine why I felt defensive. It’s not just because I don’t like being judged or criticized (though I don’t). Rather, it’s that I was expressing – trying to express! – something that’s at the very heart of why I’m a Unitarian Universalist, and why I’m lovingly devoted to this particular tradition.

So often, I have encountered the most holy, divine, truth-filled meaning in the midst of the mess. I am consistently nourished by our collective willingness to step together into the quagmire – not to dismiss it or offer simplistic explanations or pass it off to someone else, but rather to figure it out together as we go along. (Whatever “it” is!)

I am a Unitarian Universalist in large part because it is not tidy… because this faith demands my participation and attention and doesn’t offer an easy way out of difficulty. But it assures me that if I remain present and engaged, then my life will be more meaningful for the effort.

Thank you, all, for being my messy companions.

Yours in love,


One Comment

  1. Suzi

    I loved this. I’ve noticed that some people have tended to uncomfortable at the “untidiness” at our congregation. For me, it’s the opposite. Without realizing it, I tend to be uncomfortable when the road to decision making is too rigidly prescribed because I get concerned that worthy voices and pathways will be missed. Thank out for helping me understand my own viewpoint.

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