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Ministerial Musings: March Pastoral Letter from Rev. Stefanie

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

This month’s Soul Matters theme is “vulnerability”. The word itself, equated with fragility/powerlessness, can easily conjure up vivid images of loss and danger and terror.

For many, being vulnerable is equated with “being at one’s worst”; something to be avoided (or denied) at all costs. Its opposite, “strength”, is considered by many to be the ideal.

And yet, vulnerable is how we came into this world and it’s how we’ll go out. It’s also how (if we’re honest) we move through big chunks of the days in between - despite our efforts to be rooted in the confidence we equate with strength.

Recognizing these truths, most religious traditions promote wrapping compassion around our vulnerabilities and insist that they are actually the key to our strength and purpose as human beings!

Along those lines, Unitarian Universalism asks us to be boldly attentive to the “vulnerable among us” - to practice radical hospitality and work on behalf of societal justice. We do a pretty good job in that regard.

Where we may fall short is in offering the same quality of attention to our own vulnerabilities. The origins of our faith, with its optimistic focus on limitless human potential, has left little room for ritualized acceptance and healing of wounds, fears, shortcomings, and failings. Which means these can easily be pushed under a carpet, minimized, denied - until we find ourselves tripping over that “mysterious” lump!

The problem with hiding away our vulnerabilities is manifold: they don’t go away, they continue to influence us in surprisingly negative ways, they decrease our sense of connection/strength/confidence, increasing shame, fear, isolation, self-recrimination, and that perennially dreaded sense of powerlessness etc.!

So what’s a UU to do?

One thing we can do is notice these patterns of being as they play out in our lives, families, communities.

What are our definitions and experiences of vulnerability and strength, and how they are in relationship with one another? Where did those expectations come from? Are they useful, helpful, or empowering? If not, why not? Where is compassion? Can we offer it to others AND ourselves? What is needed in order to trust it and feel worthy of it? Can you ask for it? Will you offer it?

Another idea, carried forward from my seminary theology professor, Thandeka, is to keep a “risk journal”: find opportunities during the week to risk sharing vulnerabilities with people you trust and write down your observations.

Admittedly, this assignment terrified me at the time. But, I quickly found that it got easier. And, it not only improved the quality and scope of my relationships, it sparked even more potent flames of curiosity about and compassion for the human journey.

And isn’t that, ultimately, what our UU values lead us toward?

The March 5th Sharing Circle I’ll be leading in Beck Hall after the worship service will be an opportunity to further explore this theme. All are welcome!

Meanwhile, may all vulnerabilities be met with compassion, strengthening the quality and scope of your and our connections and commitments!

In Awe & Gratitude,

Rev Stefanie Etzbach-Dale



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