Dr. John Young ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 12/9/07

Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville



Ecstatic Liberalism,


Unitarian Universalism is almost always identified as a liberal religion, and almost everyone assumes that Unitarian Universalists are liberals, at least spiritually and socially. The term liberal is founded on the concept of being fit for a free person, and liberalism is associated with the search for understanding and a liberal arts education. Liberals are connected with generosity, with open-mindedness, and are thought to be advocates for individual freedom and democracy in all human groups.


The holiday spirit from Thanksgiving through the New Year aftermath focuses people in America on having a good time, on being happy. Often people may be disappointed if they donít end up feeling down right joyful. The holidays are also presented as a time for generosity and open-mindedness. In contemporary America, even within the average extended family, congregation or neighborhood, there is supposed to be plenty of room for individual freedom and increasing democracy. So, it could certainly be argued that these holiday weeks in America have evolved into a period of joyful liberal religiosity.


Ecstatic is sort of the high or hot end of the happy spectrum. Ecstasy is rapturous delight. It is intense exaltation, perhaps even happiness that goes beyond reason or self-control. Perhaps because of our American Unitarian roots with the Puritans and Pilgrims, and certainly because of our focus on the mind, rationality, science, diligence, excellence, and responsibility, Unitarian Universalism is rarely today perceived as an ecstatic type of spirituality. Many of us are uncomfortable getting beyond reason or self-control, even looking too enthusiastic about what is happening in our services, which, partly for that reason, we hesitate to call worship. For some, their UU faith seems almost to forbid that we should ever emotionally stray beyond reason or self-control. For that reason, one UU wise man and wit called UUs ĎGodís frozen people.í


I am certainly a liberal, and I am also, since my early childhood, an ecstatic. So, I donít believe that Unitarian Universalism is inconsistent with becoming and remaining an exuberantly ecstatic person. Much of my ministry have been varied efforts to get Unitarian Universalists and their fellow liberal spiritual seekers to combine the best liberal standards for their minds and goals with an enthusiastic embrace of ecstatic attitudes of heart and means of action. I strongly support our liberal religious principles and traditions, but I believe they will only become empowered in our individual lives or within communities as we put our guts, hearts, and souls into what we are doing. I urge you to decide what you really care about, who you really want to live and work and play with, and then to do so with enthusiasm, with gusto, and with all the positive passions you can muster. Every one of us is focused upon this life and this world, and so we should make the most of them.


Too often in contemporary America, we think excess is the test of liberality, that bigness or expensive are the tests for generosity, and that the acceptance of craziness or an embracing of irresponsibility are tests of open-mindedness. So, we consume too much, wear ourselves out, or rush around obsessively to prove that we are having a great time. We spend money that we do not have on gifts that people do not need and may not even want so that we will see ourselves or be seen by others as generous. And sometimes, we may silently allow friends or family to repeat the same old bigotries, or fail to intervene even when we realize that children or spouses are being abused or the sociopath is once again ruining the party or the dinner because we want to be nice and be sure that everyone has a good time.


What is worthy of a free person is sufficiency not excess. Savor what you can afford and can digest. Get excited about each lovely bite you do consume rather than how many pounds you can eat, or how many drinks you can put away before you stumble home. Generosity is primarily a matter of time and attention, attention to what the other person really wants and needs, and then giving those things with your focused time to them. We need the courage to speak the truth to people when they express childish anger, short-sighted hate, or adolescent callowness. We can and should do it with love and care, but we are not doing people a favor to remain silent when we are confronted by verbal abuse. It does not help everyone have a good time to continue to permit inappropriate or abusive behavior. Again, you may want to think carefully about what you do and how and when you do it, but it is vital that we help people have better and more just lives, not just an unmarred party or another family dinner that you need two weeks to recover from.


I am not asking you to make my personal choices your own in order to be successfully ecstatic. I realize some people find ecstasy in silence or even isolation, or really enjoy watching eight hours of football, or truly are fulfilled by cooking for three days straight. People are different, and their needs change because of time and circumstances. I am instead suggesting that you use your best principles and traditions, the standards of reason and experience that have proved true for you, and work through the forms of self-control that you have found make you whole and happiest. Then, when you are doing all those things, do them with gusto, do them with fervor. Then, after your years of learning and experience, your trials of reason and tribulations of self-control, let your selves go. Embrace what you do ecstatically. Give life all youíve got! Your life deserves it. The world deserves it. You deserve it!


What you do may be gardening in silence, or feeding the birds with a song on your lips or cooking up a storm surrounded by your loved ones. It may be feeding the homeless or calling a long-forgotten friend, or making up with an old opponent. Donít hold back; donít save your best for heaven. Do it now. Be liberal, indeed, but share your liberal gifts with all the ecstasy your souls can muster. That is the holiday spirit that every one wants to see last throughout the years.