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Our congregational theme for the month of April is The Gift of INTERDEPENDENCE. This theme explores the 7th principle of the Unitarian Universalist Association:

Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

The proposed Article II revision of the 7th Principle expands upon these ideas:

We honor the interdependent web of all existence. With reverence for the great web of life and with humility, we acknowledge our place in it.

We covenant to protect Earth and all beings from exploitation. We will create and nurture sustainable relationships of care and respect, mutuality and justice. We will work to repair harm and damaged relationships.

In both versions, the 7th Principle points to our relationship with and responsibility toward the Earth and all of the beings that inhabit it. Interpretations of this principle usually emphasize the need to mend the relationship between we human beings and the other living beings with whom we share this planet. But I interpret the 7th Principle as revealing something much bigger about how we humans have separated ourselves, not only from one another, but also from all other beings, and from creation itself. That separation leads to many existential dangers, at least some of which we are already experiencing.

In her moving poem, “We Are One,” Rev. Kaaren Anderson tells us:

“[W]e make this planet about us, and only us

and when we do, the earth calls our separate selves back, singing:

Ask yourself, you beautiful, thoughtful, gorgeous species,

How much of the planet are you really entitled to?

According to author bell hooks, the New Age commentary on love points to a “dangerous narcissism fostered by spiritual rhetoric that pays so much attention to individual self-improvement and so little to the practice of love within the context of community." [emphasis added] In this environment, hooks warns, this narcissistic spirituality can become a commodity, much like an exercise program; it might make us feel better about our lives (at least temporarily), but it makes no real difference and is not sustainable.

Another important voice on this subject is that of writer Jeremy Lent, whose Liology Institute dedicates itself to fostering what he calls “a worldview for sustainable flourishing.” From the Institute’s website, I learned that Liology (pronounced lee-ology) is based on the Chinese word “li,” meaning “the organizing principles.” Liology is a made-up word meaning “the study of the organizing principles” of everything – the complete set of dynamic patterns that make up our entire universe, or what the traditional Chinese called the Tao.

“Our values arise from our identity,” Lent asserts. “If someone defines themselves as an isolated individual, they will feel entitled to pursue their own happiness at the expense of others. … [T]hat old worldview of separation has expired. It’s not just dangerous, leading us to the precipice of ecological devastation and climate breakdown – it’s plain wrong.”

Albert Einstein is undoubtedly best known as a theoretical physicist, but he also delivered wise words of caution about our illusion of separateness and isolation. “[We] experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of our consciousness,” wrote Einstein. “This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Buddhist writer and teacher Jack Kornfeld points to the illusion of separateness as the source of so many of the woes we face today. “War, economic injustice, racism, and environmental destruction stem from the illusion of separateness,” maintains Kornfeld. “It is delusion that separates us from other humans, the trees and the oceans on this increasingly small planet.

“When we look truthfully,” he continues, “we can also see that no amount of material and scientific advancement will solve our problems alone. … Economic and political change will fail unless we also find a way to transform our consciousness. It is a delusion that endless greed and profit, hatred and war will somehow protect us and bring us happiness.”

Clearly then, what's needed is a transformation from the illusion of separateness to a recognition of our interdependence.

When it comes to learning how the practice of interdependence might improve our lives, western culture might learn from societies that appear, on the surface, to be more primitive than ours. We might, for example, consider Ubuntu, a traditional African concept that means “I am because we are,” and is often translated as “humanity towards others.” The concept includes those aspects of human interaction that contribute to harmony and sharing within a society.

This unsourced story about Ubuntu comes appears in many places on the Internet:

“An anthropologist proposed a game to children in an African tribe. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told the children that whoever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he told them to run, they all took each other’s hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that when one could have had all the fruits for himself, they said, ‘Ubuntu: how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?’”

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu called Ubuntu “the essence of being human.”

“[Y]ou can’t exist as a human being in isolation,” said Archbishop Tutu. “We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. A person with ubuntu … does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole….”

In Mid-April, the UUSM Choir will sing “Ubuntu,” Christi Jones’s musical setting that captures the essence of this concept. The inspiring words of this song are an apt description of our UU San Mateo congregation's hopes and vision:

I am who I am because of who we all are.

The road has been long, we have traveled so far.

There’s nothing together that we cannot do.

Uniting for greatness, we live Ubuntu.

If we, the Members and Friends of UU San Mateo, unite for greatness, there is nothing we cannot do. Ubuntu

Seeking more inspiration and wisdom about The Gift of INTERDEPENDENCE? Check out this month’s Soul Matters Overview, and the complete Gift of INTERDEPENDENCE ministry guide.


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