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COMPASS ROSE: THE UU SAN MATEO BLOG

REFLECTION: The Gift of PLURALISM




While considering The Gift of INTERDEPENDENCE, last month's congregational theme, we realized we humans often pursue unhealthy levels of individualism. In so doing, we separate ourselves not only from one another, but also from the other beings with whom we share this planet, and sometimes from all of creation. The illusion of separateness is a dream from which we can awaken.


The next step on our journey toward clearer understanding is to consider The Gift of PLURALISM, our congregational theme for the month of May. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines pluralism as “a state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain and develop their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization [or community].” That gets us closer, but it still seems to be a way to tolerate diversity rather than to embrace it. Fortunately, there are many voices ready, willing, and able to help us understand, and to provide guidance.


“Diversity is being invited to the party;

  Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

– Vernā Myers, Netflix VP of Inclusion Strategy


How can we learn to be fully inclusive – to embrace the gift of pluralism – so that we are not just inviting everyone to the party, but engaging with them in the dance? According to Rev. angel Kyodo williams Sensei, an African-American Buddhist:


 “Inclusivity is not

   ‘how do we make you a part of what we are?’

         but

  ‘how do we become more of what you are?’


A social visionary, spiritual teacher, and the founder of the Center for Transformative Change, Rev. angel coined the phrase, “Transformative Social Change” to describe the process of applying inner awareness practice to broad-based social change. According to her website biography, “[T]he key to transforming society is transforming our inner lives.” She envisions “the building of a presence-centered social justice movement as the foundation for personal freedom, a just society and the healing of divisions of race, class, faith and politic.”


Transforming our inner lives requires recognizing and accepting the pluralism that exists inside ourselves. An important voice in understanding this requirement is that of Elizabeth Gilbert, an American journalist and author who is best known for her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love


“The most peaceful…and…wise people that I know are the ones who have created enough internal space to allow all the parts of themselves to coexist despite the contradictions,” writes Gilbert.


“[T]hey have room for

their creativity [and] their fear…

their dignity [and] their shame…

the parts of themselves that are glorious…wonderful…divine

[and those that are] petty and jealous and ridiculous.

They don’t kick any parts out, because…

[y]ou can’t.”


The word “pluralism” means many, but when religious philosophers talk about this subject, many describe a breathtaking unity – what one might call the oneness of everything. Gareth Gwyn, author of You Are Us: How To Build Bridges in a Polarized World, points to an apparent paradox: the distance we place between the self and the other.


“This othering process is myopic in that it doesn’t take into account that our own wholeness is dependent on reclaiming the alternate pole – the person we think we are not, the other within us,” Gwyn explains. “When we are able to relate with each pole … in recognition of our own innate wholeness, the experience of polarity can be one of expansion, flow, contrast, and generative transformation rather than division.


“The idea that you are either with us or against is a limiting lens that perpetuates humanity’s suffering. The recognition that you are us, that everyone is us, allows our self-love to humanize others into belonging,” she concludes. 


Rev. Julian Jamaica Soto, a Unitarian Universalist minister and activist, suggests we go one step further in our understanding of the pluralism inside our self and how that relates to other. “To be free, you must embrace the breadth of your own existence without apology…,” they assert. “But to actually be free, you must know and you must fight for the entire Universes inside of everyone else.”


Clearly, there are many voices urging us to embrace pluralism as a way of understanding and expanding our individualistic selves. Perhaps the most important voices can be found by being together right here, in our own beloved religious community.


“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.”

– Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed



Seeking more inspiration and wisdom about The Gift of PLURALISM?

Check out this month’s Soul Matters Overview,


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