Out of Balance?

Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection.

In normal times, I might say that life is “at its core, an attempt at balancing.” But we have not been in “normal times” for a while now. We certainly aren’t in this present moment, as we hang on the precipice of a world war.  

I am feeling skeptical (to say the least) about the very idea that “balance” should be our goal, or even something to be admired. I can’t say these times are for finding “balance.”

It seems to me that we have all been painfully learning not how to maintain or achieve balance, but rather how to live a life that is in so many ways “out of balance.” 

Aren’t you feeling out of balance? I trust that you are. That you are troubled, alert that people are dying, suffering in Ukraine and all over this world. And sickened by it. Worried. I imagine you are like me, feeling a “soul hurt.” 

The pandemic made many of us turn inwards, staying in our own spaces, hunkering down with our families, looking for safety and a place to maintain our health. Perhaps your circumstances during the pandemic led you to rely on just a few relationships; perhaps your circle of safety narrowed to a smaller and smaller zone of relatedness. At any rate, the pandemic led us to live behind masks.

I remember some time ago, perhaps in my late twenties, when a dear friend of mine, sensing I was getting lost in kind of isolated dependency, advised me to stop trying so hard to get everything I thought I needed from one relationship. She impressed upon me the wiser path; to receive with openness what any particular relationship had to offer for the time it was viable, and remain open to what many differing relationships could offer over time. Her point was that I needed to let go of the expectation that any one relationship would offer all I would ever need. Rarely, if ever, would my needs be met by one relationship, and rarely, if ever, would all my needs be met all at once. 

Holding on to the expectation that that would happen was going to get in the way of receiving whatever unique and special gift each relationship, old or new, had to offer. All the riches and gifts I would receive and give over my lifetime could be mine if I let go of that expectation.

Isn’t that the kernel of wisdom that teaches us as UUs to welcome diversity and difference? Practicing open-armed interdependence, what some call radical hospitality? It is not about achieving a better balance in the variety of our associates. It is about experiencing difference in a deeply appreciative way, and remembering that we can only do that by letting go of any of our stated (perhaps unconscious) demands for sameness, for conformity, or for what we might think of as a desirable balance that leads to harmony, security, safety.

I don’t think that is balance, but fear-based isolation. In fact, resilience and survival comes from learning to live with risk, choosing to be “out of balance,” not striving for some “perfect” balanced state that satisfies or tries to satisfy our sense of safety. 

We must lean this way or that, depending on the circumstances, on how we are called to be caring and loving of each other and those across the world. 

Maybe it is easier in our formative years, when we are learning who we are, to maintain an “out of balance” posture. So many times, I recall entering a conversation, a small group, a classroom, a gathering, trying to get a sense of what was going on, and when I did, leaning the other way. If I found myself in a conservative group, I would lean left. If I found myself in the middle of an academic or intellectual conversation, I would lean toward speaking as plainly as possible. If I happened upon people I thought of as radicals, I would be the one seeking caution, trying to slow things down.

I think what was happening in those years was that I was in the process of figuring out who I was and where I might fit. Was it my role to balance every conversation? To lean the opposite way of whatever I encountered? No. It took years to understand that my role was to be confident of who I was called to be in relationship with myself and others, in a way that might lead to whatever seemed to be the common good as best as I could discern it at the time, and in relationship with others; to find my truth, perhaps, but certainly to find our truth together. That is what drew me into Unitarian Universalism.

Even the conversations about balance and harmony drew me in. 

But now, I see that the idea of “balance” can keep us from doing what needs to be done to provoke, to challenge, to bring about needed change. 

In a sermon titled Tipping the Balance by Rev. John Nichols, he says:

When we get up in the morning most of us want a comfortable, safe, predictable way to get through the day. This is a staple of human nature. We seek a place for ourselves that feels familiar. We were not born for revolution or even to stop revolutions. And so, when we look back at something like the rise of the Nazis—and we ask ourselves, “Why didn’t they see it coming?”—the answer is that at one level they did see it coming, but they did not want to know what they saw. They didn’t want to change their lives, to take the risks involved in stopping it. And indeed the risks were potentially fatal.

From J. Nichols,”Tipping the Balance” (22 September 2013), https://www.uuwayland.org/worship/sermon-archive-2013-2014/

The men and women in Ukraine fighting for their country, for their way of life, mostly may not have anticipated the brutality and destruction coming their way.  They’re in the middle of it now and they need help. And they keep asking for it.  Must we be reminded that this isn’t the only place on Earth where people are living with war and devastation, and they need help and they keep asking for it?

What can we do? Lean into the disharmony. Lean into the out of balance.

I no longer feel the need to make every small circle balanced. I have learned that leaning into the disharmony is the only way to make my life have meaning, to be of help, to birth the future during this present moment. 

Rev. Nichols goes on in that sermon to talk about what does make for change. What motivates people to get out of their secure homes and go out into the streets to help somebody they may not even know, or are related to? What makes that happen? He talks about points of connection that make your soul hurt, that call you to participate in giving life.

What was your point of connection? I am sure you saw some of the media from Ukraine. My point of connection was the young couple with the dead baby in the bloody, blue blanket rushing into the hospital to save their child’s life. Fifteen months old, caught in the destruction. 

What is calling out to you? Where are the points of connection that make your soul hurt, that are calling to you to participate, to give life. Where are you stepping out to do the right thing?

Yes, there is a threat of world war, and we are in a dilemma. Some people are choosing balance. I cannot choose that.     

Balance may make sense in “normal” times, but not now. 

I went to the protest at the Bridgewater police station the other day. There were maybe 100 people there in the courtyard.  There were some clergy there. Right before the lawyer Ben Crump and the family of the young man who had been wrestled to the floor because he was darker than the other young man—boys really—there was a call for the clergy to come up and stand with the family. I moved.

About the same time, a counterprotest began, a few men with their own mikes and amplifier who went on and on about how the people coming from the outside were there to make money and gain notoriety. They went on and on about their grievances with the police.

They lived in Somerville, and they had been beaten by the police, and on and on. A woman went over to reason with them to please stop so that the planned protest could go on.

They didn’t stop. Finally, the family and Crump went into the building and a few others followed until it was at capacity, which left most of us outside. I started talking to a few of the folks around me and said I thought the men who had interfered were right, that this was about more than one young man. 

But I didn’t go over and offer and any help. I just left.

I felt ashamed of myself for leaving, for not making an offer of help.

Yesterday, I was in a UU ministers’ conference where we were talking about congregational culture, particularly UU culture. We talked about how we as UUs value balance and harmony, and we want our congregations to be welcoming and diverse. How we want to welcome all. But look around: We are so same, and we are rather comfortable.

It is good to be uncomfortable. It is good to be out of balance, because then you know what your call is. I won’t tell you what you ought to do in regard to Ukraine or any other war. I am just telling you to pay attention, to listen to the points of connection, where your soul hurts. And choose survival, not just for yourself, but through some point of connection. Maybe you see it through the television, from a neighbor, hear it from someone asking you for help.

Help them. 

Life is short, very short. Maybe our life will be over next week. What will you do this week?

These are uncomfortable times. Lean into the disharmony, the discomfort.


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