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Insights: Identity by Chris Scheller, M. Div.

I was deeply inspired by the youth-led service last Sunday – along with everyone else who was able to attend, I’m sure. Our youth group spoke eloquently on the theme of Unity. But what I want to hold up for purposes of this reflection is that it is impossible to speak about unity without speaking about individual and group identity, as well. They are two sides of the same coin. You may have noticed that our high school youth acknowledged this implicitly through the analysis they offered. Unity cannot and should not create a cultural hegemony, in which the ruling-class worldview, appearance, and behaviors are imposed on others. True unity should advance the common good of all humans and life on the planet – honoring and celebrating individual differences along with our common humanity and shared destiny on this one planet. From this perspective, our interdependence depends on the diversity of gifts and different strengths and viewpoints that each individual brings to the table. Our togetherness depends on and should strengthen the way each of us can freely choose how to express our identities through our ideas and beliefs, the choiceless ways we appear and choose to appear to the world, and the ways we behave – both essential behaviors beyond choice and those behaviors we choose insofar as they do no harm.

Identity, which is the worship theme for the month of April, is an essential truth of the human condition. It gets to the heart of who we are as individuals, as members of groups, and as a means to find our way and our place in the world. The bottom line is that all aspects of identity are a sacred expression – an expression of the unique ways that Spirit manifests in and through each individual person, flower, rock, or bug. We Unitarian Universalists know something about this. We work hard on supporting and honoring the diversity of identities connected with gender, culture, race, religion, and spiritual beliefs. We are committed to looking at the ways that we can stand with those of us (the big “us” includes everyone) that suffer from all forms of discrimination, oppression, and bigotry.

Society privileges dominant identities: white, male, heterosexual, extroverted, …. the list goes on. Structural and unconscious biases play into this dynamic, such that even in the UUA, which specifically works to create and nurture inclusive, anti-racist, multicultural, and beloved community, discussions about the possibility of structural racism in the national organization’s hiring practices have recently led to the resignation of UUA President Peter Morales.

As people committed to the ideals of honoring diversity and multiculturalism, I believe our response to these events should be first to look within ourselves, to continue to search for the ways that social norms and biases work both within and around us, and to proceed with a forgiving and humble heart as we work together to manifest our shared vision and dream of a truly inclusive Beloved Community.