What Does It Mean To Be A Community of Identity?

Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the “integrity that comes from being what you are.” ~Parker Palmer

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes. ~Walt Whitman

It’s one thing for a religion to offer you an identity; it’s quite another for a religion to celebrate your identity. At our best, we UUs seek both.

Our entire Soul Matters program is about UU identity. Each month, we lift up a unique value or human quality that our faith calls us to live and lean into. Together, our themes tell us who UUs uniquely are. But that’s only half of the equation. In addition to “UU identity,” there’s also “your identity.” And our faith communities are just as committed to that.

In a sense, every UU congregation hangs two signs on their front doors:

One that reads Hidden Parts Allowed in the Open!”

And another that says Contradictions Welcome!

We agree with Parker Palmer that our society has separated us from our souls. Indeed, the only relevant religions today are the ones that take this seriously. Hell certainly exists; it’s the state of having to hide ourselves. And we also cheer on Walt Whitman’s celebration of messiness and contradiction. We don’t just want people to be honest about their contradictions; we want them to see those contradictions as great gifts! Bottom line: we want our congregations to be places where you don’t have to pretend.

And it’s not just the pressure to pretend that breaks our hearts. Our faith also worries about the way our culture urges us to live small. As social critic, Courtney Martin points out, “It’s never been more asked of us to show up as only slices of ourselves.” The risk of this, of course, is that if we live too long only in our “slices,” they become all that we are. There is no greater spiritual warning than one Kurt Vonnegut lifted up: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Friends, this identity work isn’t a game or merely a pastime. It’s unquestionably life and death stuff.   

And here’s the kicker: our faith wants you to stop hiding and live fully, not just for your sake, but for our sake as well. We are all struggling to escape our slices and connect to our hidden wholeness. Seeing you be real gives us permission to be let our true self out of the dark! Your brave honesty about your contradictions, allows us to proudly strut around in our multitudes! We save each other by being true to ourselves.

So this month, maybe those signs need hung on your own personal doors. Hidden Parts Allowed Out in the Open! Contradictions Welcome! No More Pretending! For all of our sakes.

Excerpt from the UU Soul Matters Curriculum.