Values as Actions

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Are you sitting down? Yes? Alright then.

I’ve been going to church lately. (I know, right?) Well, “church”. After considering it off and on for a number of months, I figured, why not, and started to get back in touch with my UU roots. Part of what makes this doable for me is that it is “church”; the elements that keep me away from other congregations in the neighborhood are present to some degree, but on an opt-in basis. I like that there are no minimum spiritual requirements for participation. I also really like the feeling of being in a room full of people who have come together for peaceful and positive reasons, people who, as the senior minister is fond of saying, wish me well. Even if they don’t know me. What really keeps me coming back, though, is the congregation’s orientation toward issues of social justice. The primacy of action. After what has sometimes seemed like an intensely selfish year, I needed–need–reminders to listen to that little voice inside me, week after week. This is why you’re here. You need to do something. It is. I do.

On Sunday, by way of kicking off the “reach for your checkbook” portion of the morning’s activities, the associate minister made a comment that hit me hard, mid-chuckle. If you want to know what someone really values, he said, take a look at their checkbook–here the laugh started–and how they spend their time–and here, as quickly as it had come, the smile fell from my face.

My checkbook, I’m not so worried about. It’s like the kids in the congregation who get excused to Sunday School before all the serious grown folks talk happens. It reflects small donations here and there, but considering the source and amount of my income, I try not to put too much pressure on it. My time, though.. I’ve failed so utterly this past year to be of service to anything but myself, my immediate loved ones, and my future. When I was teaching before, even if I didn’t do much else I knew that through my work I had a positive impact on my students’ lives, if only just through creating a safe space and being a supportive presence. This year? I gave blood once. That’s what I’ve done for the world. It’s been a hell of a year and I probably shouldn’t be so hard on myself, but now that I’m reaching a point where I could be doing something, it weighs on me that I’m not. I don’t want to go so easy on me.

Values as actions. Mine say I value work for money (and tuition). I value meeting the requirements of my program. I value being involved in my professional community and making it a better place (yes, I’m that aberration that likes and volunteers for service).  An underlying piece of all of this, one that troubles me, is that I have also clearly responded to being socialized to value lines on my CV. I would appear not to value socializing much. I do value sleep and personal time (and have found it necessary to be That Guy when it comes to creating and defending boundaries around things like weekends, which coworkers would just as soon I not have). I value reading and writing and streaming back episodes of television shows on the internet. Stolen weekends with my husband and walks with the dog, yes. This semester I don’t much value my piano.

Values as actions. There are things that I feel I value that are conspicuously absent from that list. I have plans to get involved in tutoring on a regular basis when I come back in the fall, and I hope I keep that commitment to myself and my community. I signed up this week to help out a couple times during the week the UU congregation staffs a local family shelter. It’s a tiny investment, but it’s a start.

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