Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Being Led by Our Principles

A friend and colleague asks, "When did our Principles ever lead us to a place we didn't already want to go?"

It's a bit like asking "When is something truly altruistic?"  The fact that I did something might argue that to some extent I wanted to do it -- that I felt doing it served some purpose.  But sweeping aside the philosophical question, I think I can point to places our Principles have led me that I was at least conflicted about. 

The first time I remember being pushed by my principles to do something that I was uncomfortable doing was in graduate school.  I became aware that I had what I knew was an unreasonable fear of people with HIV/AIDS.  And I felt that my principles called me to address my fear and get over it.  And so I volunteered to spend my spring break with the Alternative Spring Break program working for the Mobile (AL) AIDS Support Services.  I've written about that experience in this blog before.

The next time I felt like my principles were calling me to engage an issue that I was a bit uncomfortable with was when our movement started adding transgender people to our Welcoming Congregation.  My prejudicial view of transgender people was that they often reinforced gender stereotypes rather than breaking them down, in a way that was contrary to feminism, which taught me I can be anybody I want to be and still be a woman.  The more I heard things like "It's about more than just plumbing" the more I felt that, no, being a man or a woman is just about plumbing -- everything else is cultural.  And it put me in a logical loop where I had trouble understanding the struggle of transgender people.  I knew that this was something to work on, and that my principles were calling me to understand -- and to have empathy.  And it took both personal conversations with friends and putting my heart before my head to break me out of this loop and understand that what looks like strengthening gender stereotypes is a radical challenges to boxes, just from a different angle than feminism. 

The most recent time when my principles led me where I was reluctant to go was on the issue of immigration reform.  I didn't want to get involved in this issue particularly.  I had never really connected with it.  But the work that our denomination was doing and how it was grounded in our principles made it clear to me that it didn't matter that I personally didn't really connect with the issue.  I needed to study it and understand it and then take action and speak out. 

I'm not always perfect at listening to my principles.  There are places that my principles are leading me now where I'm resisting.  In a word: vegetarianism.  So I'm not perfect at this.  But I do try to let my principles stretch me and grow me.  It's not often that our Principles lead me somewhere where I don't want to go -- but both figuratively and literally I didn't want to go to Mobile, and I didn't want to go to Phoenix.  I'm glad I did, and I'm glad I listen to our Principles and stay open to new understandings and new ideas.  And I hope that they'll lead me someplace unexpected soon. 

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