Notes From Our Minister November 2021: Holding History

Through October, we explored “cultivating relationship” from a few different perspectives. In the weeks ahead, we’ll be “Holding History” in services about justice, tradition, and carrying light forward in our lives and community.

History has become a tricky topic. Especially for people who affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. People with inherent worth and dignity sometimes do things that cause a lot of harm. Things that don’t reflect our vision for a global community characterized by peace, liberty, and justice.

Personally, this is challenging to me because I happen to admire the accomplishments of some people whom I don’t admire all that much as human beings. Cosmic horror author H. P. Lovecraft, for instance. 

I’m a big fan of what Lovecraft created. He collaborated with other authors in his day to develop a shared universe that didn’t really belong to any one writer. His creativity has sparked the imaginations of other authors for the past century. 

But Lovecraft was profoundly racist and misogynistic. I can’t even excuse him for just being a product of his time. I can’t ignore his attitudes about people with historically marginalized identities. Those attitudes surely influenced his creative endeavors.

And yet, there are authors today who are taking Lovecraft’s ideas in new directions. There are female authors who use cosmic horror to write about gender. There are Black authors who use Lovecraftian themes to write about race. There are lesbian and gay authors who use the genre to address sexual identity. There are trans and non-binary authors who explore identity through the lens of cosmic horror.

The very people Lovecraft would have rejected as equal human beings are using ideas that originated with him to address issues of systemic injustice, societal prejudice, and the fear and anxiety that prevents people from creating greater wholeness and well-being. I love that. And I have a really hard time not embracing Lovecraft’s creative legacy, even as I am repulsed by his behavior and attitudes.

My guess is that we’ll see something similar if we look back at our history—the legacy of Unitarians and Universalists who contributed to our religious tradition. Some of them had some horrible ideas. Some of them did deplorable things. And harmful behaviors ought to have consequences. 

But the story is still unfolding. We embrace an ever-evolving understanding of spirituality and human wholeness. New voices are contributing to that evolution as we co-create the future of our faith tradition. And collectively, we get to decide what we carry forward, and what we leave behind.

So, when we talk about holding history, maybe we’re talking about being honest about what has gone before. Honestly acknowledging all the amazing things and all of the harmful things that form our foundation. Holding everything up to the light fearlessly, shamelessly, so that we can grow into the people we most want to be. Holding our tradition loosely enough that we can let go of the pieces that no longer serve us as we discern a way forward to greater justice, equity, and compassion. Holding the pain of the past with gentle acknowledgment even as we hold the achievements of the past in an enthusiastic embrace.

May we learn how to hold our personal and collective histories with greater integrity and grace as we continue our journey toward wholeness together.