Labels are not important. Except that they are. But you knew that. There is a reason why nouns are valid parts of speech. Sharing, communicating, or just getting through the day without using them is pretty tricky.
Nobody wants to be defined by an external title. There is a lot more to you and I than the names we choose. It is tough to share that deeper truth without introducing yourself.
Let me try that again. Sometimes folks shy away from labels because they want to focus on inclusivity. This is a noble goal, but if I’m not able to say what I am, I’m forced to tell my story by pointing to what I’m not. A classic example of this can be heard when a Unity person tries to explain their beliefs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “we’re not like the Catholics, because we don’t do X,” “we are different from the Buddhists, because we don’t have Y,” or “we’re not Unitarians, due to Z.” All those statements may be accurate. I’m sure they come from good intentions. But they’re not especially instructive. Can you imagine going to a restaurant and being handed a menu full of items that aren’t available? How about buying a map that only showed places you did not want to see?
Inclusivity has something to do with making it easy for everyone involved to share their truths and tell their stories. Withholding a name, even in the spirit of openness, ends up putting up a wall rather than building a bridge.
Let me try that again, again: Sharing starts when you can articulate what you believe. The name you choose is not all there is to you, but if you claim it in peace and on purpose, it can open a channel to your real self.
So who are you?
There are a lot of answers to that question. I’ve seen Unity people wrestle with it with varied degrees of success. I’ve heard everything from “Truth Student” to “Unitic,” and while those answers are all accurate (and sometimes cute), I think we can do better. Here’s what we’ve been saying around here, when people ask us about our faith claim:
I am Unity.
Try it. See how it feels for you. I’m a fan for all kinds of reasons. I like the use of the “I am” affirmation, of course, but I’m even more excited about the educational opportunity and responsibility implied there. I don’t know what your background is, but it’s not likely that your understanding of Catholicism or Buddhism comes from hanging around with the Pope or the Dalai Lama. Instead, you work with (or are related to, or play golf with, or used to be) a Catholic or a Buddhist. We learn about a belief system by observing regular people, people like you and me, who are walking that path.
When you say “I am Unity,” you are reminding yourself that you carry the signs that tell the world what Unity is.
When I was born, my parents were both working and studying at Unity Village. We lived on the grounds, in a little trailer; it was the first home I ever knew. But Unity is not a set of buildings, no matter how beautiful they are. Unity is the teachings and traditions, and Unity is you and me when we resolve to live them out loud.
Remember the first time you found a Unity church or picked up a copy of Lessons in Truth, and felt like you were finally coming home after a long journey? Something changed for you, and you’ll never be the same. You can spark that feeling in somebody else by living the Unity way and leading by example.
We have the ability, and the responsibility, to learn what we can about the foundational Unity teachings. At the same time, the onus is on us to tear down some walls and figure out how they can apply to all areas of life, not just that wonderful, but safe and a little secret, place we go to every Sunday.
Jenny and I decided to call what we’re doing the Unity Society as a nod to our history, but also as a way to affirm our mission in the present and future. A society is where you live, and it is defined by its participants.
If you’re reading this, Unity changed your life at some point. We can give back and change the world by celebrating who we are.