April 2013 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

What redeems you?

In my experience this is not a question Unitarian Universalists typically hear from their ministers. While there are multiple uses of the word redemption (we redeem coupons, bottles, delinquent real estate taxes, anything we’ve pawned or mortgaged, etc.) I suspect we most often encounter it as one of those haunt­ing, traditional religious words. In Christian theology redemption blends together with atonement and salva­tion. I’ve never really understood it, but somehow Jesus’ death and resurrection redeem us, save us, atone for our sins.

Redemption is our ministry theme for April. As with all haunting religious words, I don’t want us to get stuck on the traditional meaning. There’s much in this world that redeems us, and that’s what I’d like to explore. I think about this in a number of ways. First, we know that from time to time we miss our mark. We make mistakes. We hurt others. We violate our own principles. We sin. Sometimes this happens in uncon­scious ways. Sometimes we mean for it to happen. What redeems us in such situations is our capacity to recog­nize our wrong-doing, to take responsibility, to apologize, to make amends, to forgive ourselves, and to accept forgiveness from others if it is offered. Redemption, in this case, moves us back into right relationship.

Second, the longer I am engaged in parish ministry, the more I am convinced we each have a calling. We each have natural gifts. We each have something about which we are passionate—something that lights us up and energizes us. But so often we remain distant from that calling, alienated from the life we long to live, unclear about what we really want to do. Or, sometimes, we know what we want to do with our lives but, for any number of reasons, we are afraid to take a new path. What redeems us in such situations is our capacity to change how we currently live in order to pursue our calling. Redemption, in this case, moves us from what may feel like a stifled and stunted life to a life full of passion and a palpable sense of freedom.

Finally, I look at the many varieties of injustice in the world. Human beings create unjust systems in order to perpetuate power and privilege for a few at the expense of the many. Perhaps it has always been this way. But that doesn’t make it right. What redeems us in light of the reality of injustice is our effort to subvert and transform it. What redeems us are our words and deeds that help create a more just society. Redemption, in this case, is a collective experience because justice work is always a collective process. Redemption, in this case, moves us from unjust social arrangements to the beloved community.

These are my initial reflections on our ministry theme. But my question remains: What redeems you? I’d really like to know!

Rev. Josh Pawelek