Relational Theology

Rev. Don Beaudreault
First Parish Brewster Unitarian Universalist
October 25, 2015

A person who respects others is respected by others in return. Those who treat others with compassion and concern are protected and supported by others. Our environment is essentially a reflection of ourselves.
Daisaku Ikeda

MEDITATION READING: “How to Get Along with People”
1. Keep skid chains on your tongue; always say less than you think. Cultivate a low, persuasive voice. How you say it counts more than what you say.
2. Make promises sparingly, and keep them faithfully, no matter what it costs.
3. Never let an opportunity pass to say a kind and encouraging word to or about somebody. Praise good work, regardless of who did it. If criticism is needed, criticize helpfully, never spitefully.
4. Be interested in others, their pursuits, their work, their homes and families. Make merry with those who rejoice; with those who weep, mourn. Let everyone you meet, however humble, feel that you regard him or her as a person of importance.
5. Be cheerful. Don’t burden or depress those around you by dwelling on your minor aches and pains and small disappointments. Remember, everyone is carrying some kind of a load.
6. Keep an open mind. Discuss but don’t argue. It is a mark of a superior mind to be able to disagree without being disagreeable.
7. Let your virtues speak for themselves. Refuse to talk of another’s vices. Discourage gossip. It is a waste of valuable time and can be extremely destructive.
8. Be careful of another’s feelings. Wit and humor at the other person’s expense are rarely worth it and may hurt when least expected.
9. Pay no attention to ill-natured remarks about you. Remember, the person who carried the message may not be the most accurate reporter in the world. Simply live so that nobody will believe them. Disordered nerves and bad digestion are a common cause of backbiting.
10. Don’t be too anxious about the credit due you. Do your best, and be patient. Forget about yourself, and let others “remember.” Success is much sweeter that way.
Ann Landers

SERMON: “Relational Theology”
Having been in the “people business” all my working life – either as a teacher or minister – I have concluded a couple things:
1. We humans sometimes get it right.
2. We humans sometimes get it wrong.
I’m talking about how we “relate” to each other; how we tell each other who we are and what we believe – through our words, deeds, body language.
Sometimes right. Sometimes wrong.
Another thing I have concluded:
Going to church doesn’t necessarily mean that we will get it right more often than wrong in how we relate. It just means that we are asked to consider these matters through a spiritual lens. One that tells us that we are, after all, merely human, merely fallible, and sometimes in need of being forgiven by others or in need of forgiving others.
In other words, as I have served people – some thousands of them at this point – I conclude that there’s always room for improving how we relate to each other.
And this congregation is no exception.
Therefore, this particular Visioning Sunday is going to ask us during the sermon and during our small group discussions after the second service to consider this question of relationship one with the other, in regard to the precepts that we hold relevant to our belief system.
In considering these matters, I want us to be aware that patterns of human interaction don’t just happen. They are ingrained from generations before ours. The counseling modality known as Family Systems Therapy informs us of this.
Truly, we are influenced by those who have gone before us, despite our particular spin on it.
Think about it this way: every single minister who preached from this pulpit, and every single congregant who sat where you are sitting, is alive and well in this room.
They live inside us.
Scary thought isn’t it!
But I simply mean that the culture of this congregation – like your own family’s culture – has been influenced by those who have gone before us.
And some of those former ministers and former parishioners and family members are still alive and well in your heads – for good or ill.
So, you might think of yourself as beyond any possible fray – especially if you are brand new to this congregation, but you are, nevertheless, affected by how others act today and in the past.
Still others of you might be a bit timid about this sermon and the small-group discussions that will occur after the service. I mean, we are going to ask you to get real – as real as you can or want to be – in your statements and responses to others in regard to how you envision congregational relationships in the future, based upon present and past experience. And that means that you will have an opportunity to tell your truth as you see it – but in a loving way. Remember what Ann Landers said: Be careful of another’s feelings.
So then, let us explain what “relational theology” is about. A classical definition of it presupposes a God of intent. So whether or not you believe in such a deity – or in any deity – as having a specific plan so that we creatures get a chance to connect, at least I hope you believe in the benefit of connecting profoundly with other human beings. Such benefit includes a deepening of purpose and meaning, and in the process of gaining support for you and the other person.
The theologian Martin Buber wrote a classic book in 1923 called I and Thou in which he posits the thought that when two human beings relate to each other totally, from the very wellsprings of our being, there is no separation, no objectifying one of the other. When we connect from the very core of our beings, all separation ceases and the relationship becomes what he called an I/Thou one.
But when there is a division between two people, there is an I/It relationship. Each person then is a thing to the other person, an object, rather than another human being with apparent strengths and weaknesses.
As I already have said, we might prefer not to use such theistic thought or language, depending upon our own belief systems.
Any rate, how we relate to others – how we communicate verbally and through our body language (including our tones and pitches of voice); and what our actions become, all substantiate how we relate to another person.
Of course, sometimes, we “read” the other person wrong. A furrowed brow is sometimes just a furrowed brown, not a sign of displeasure.
Now, a religious community really is about relating theologically – or to put in other terms – it is about how we connect deeply, instead of superficially. And in doing this, we are attempting to be authentic with each other.
It is about speaking and acting one’s truth to the other but in a loving and kind way, without any intent of causing harm to the other’s “soul” (or the other’s deep self).
In his incredible book, Care of the Soul, the contemporary Thomas Moore speaks of the “soul” in these terms:
The great malady of the twentieth century, implicated in all of our troubles and affecting us individually and socially is “loss of soul.” When soul is neglected, it doesn’t just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence and loss of meaning…
“Soul” is not a thing, but a quality or a dimension of experiencing life and ourselves. It has to do with depth, value, relatedness, heart, and personal substance. I do not use the word here as an object of religious belief or as something to do with immortality…
So, my question to each of you in regard to these words is: Don’t we come to this religious community to gain meaning and purpose in life through relating to each other; through caring for each other – for each other’s soul?
And so when we don’t do this – when we say untoward, hurtful things with the intent to control or manipulate or to get even or to prove how right we are and how wrong the other person is – are we really caring for the other person’s deeper self?
Don’t you feel bad deep down inside yourself when you have hurt someone else? Don’t you feel “compassion”?
Interesting word origin that one: “Compassion” coming from the Latin word meaning “to suffer with.”
At least that is an ideal in a spiritual community. But yes, of course, we are all merely human, and as such fail in our ideals. Still, we have those ideals for which to strive.
The first principle in our Unitarian Universalist list of principles speaks of that primary ideal that we hold up: “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”
What this means for me in connection to this congregation is this list I have created. So here is your own resident Ann Landers or Andy Rooney telling you how you might improve your relationships with other First Parish Brewstonians, as well as with the world-at-large.

Beaudreault’s Top Ten Commandments
for Improving Human Relationships

1. Be kind. Kindness can change a person really fast – even if the person doesn’t have some psychological tools to understand or reciprocate kindness in return. And yet, sometimes people will not obviously change; but then again for some it just takes more time.
2. Be blameless – meaning, don’t blame or accept blame from others. That is so judgmental! But do accept responsibility for yourself, and hope the other person will accept it for him/herself. Still, even if they do not, do not reciprocate with vindictive words or actions – or even thoughts.
3. Be without ego. In other words have a sense of pride in yourself, but not to the point of being intransigent so that you can never see the other person’s point of view. You really aren’t that special – no more special than anyone else, in fact. Remember: we are all on the same planet.
4. Be beyond gossip. Don’t start rumors about someone else. Don’t say anything about the other person that you wouldn’t say to his or her face. Never back-bite. It usually comes back to bite you – in the end. In other words, be direct in your communication with others.
5. Be aware that your intention or the other person’s might not be indicated by what the situation becomes. So assume the best about the other’s intention, rather than prejudging him or her in negative ways. Be open to the possibilities of understanding and appreciating that human being.
6. Be accepting that sometimes the resolution between people in disharmony will never be rectified. But work at trying to do so anyway, and know within yourself that you have given the best you have. You have had tried. So realize that sometimes resolution is, in fact, irresolution.
7. Be attentive. Seek for meaning beyond the words that are spoken. Try to see the person before you as a “Thou” rather than as an “It.” And know that this is what a spiritual family is about. It is a place where we put on our spiritual glasses, not a place of striving to “get ahead,” but to “get real.”
8. Be fair. Everybody deserves a chance to be who she or he is or wants to be. Who are you to tell someone else that she or he cannot? Who made you in charge? And do you want someone telling you that you have to take a certain path when you really do not want to do so?
9. Be honest. This is certainly not an easy thing to do. But decide to be honest in a gentle way. Don’t bully others when stating your own position about anything! This usually makes the other person act defensively – to the point of sometimes becoming as aggressive as the one who is bullying.
10. Be courageous. It is not easy for most people to say what they mean and mean what they say. But not to do so is passive-aggressive. Consider the origin of the word heart: from the French word “coeur.” Courageous! So speak from your heart – that is with love. That is the “I/Thou” way.
In this regard, let us close with these inspirational words from Emily Dickinson:
Can I see another’s woe, and not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief and not seek for kind relief?
Can I see a falling tear, and not feel my sorrow’s share?
Can a father see his child weep, nor be with sorrow filled?
Can a mother sit and hear infant groan, an infant fear?
No, no, never can it be! Never, never can it be!

…love without dialogic, without real outgoing to the other, reaching to the other, the love remaining with itself – this is called Lucifer.
Martin Buber