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Are we living the lives we want to live or are we just putting in time? If religion is taking life and death seriously, how serious are we about getting the most out of our days?
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Religion ought to be a liberating force in our lives. A great deal of American religion is so moralizing and guilt-producing that it misses the point. That is not what religion is supposed to do.
Most of us are active in some organizations beyond the church which are trying to respond to human need and make the world a better place, and all of us contribute to a variety of the organizations that fill our mailboxes with their pleas for our support.
We all give what we can to the causes that seem most important to us and we all toss the other appeals away. When we make out our income tax form and see how many organizations we are actively involved in and which organizations we contribute to, we see a fascinating profile of our values.
What we need to do individually and in our religious institutions is to focus on what we are really called to do and do it and realize the limits of our powers to save the world. Did you notice that I said "what we are called to do?" I think that is part of the spiritual work of religion - to figure out what we are called to do as our part in "saving the world" and do it.
In Christian social ethics, it is called the doctrine of vocation and it is based on the idea that Christians are called by God to do some things to relieve the suffering of the world. Without that belief in a personal God who is communicating directly to us, it is still a useful idea: What is it that I, uniquely, can do to make the world a better place? What can I do that will give meaning and value to my life in a final accounting? We need to be able to feel that our lives have made a difference even if we cannot save the world.
But that is only part of the religious journey. The gift of life is such an incredible adventure that we are called on to live expansively, generously, bravely, and daringly. Part of it is simply the excitement of finding the things we can do that we never thought we could possible do.
Think back to your early days as you began to test your wings and to wonder what skills and powers would come to be a part of your life. How did you grow to do the things you thought of as impossible? How did you meet the challenges and make good things happen and survive the tough times? What kept you going when the future looked dark? All that is part of your religion.
So how are you doing today? Is life still an adventure? Are you still taking risks? What are the things you have not yet done that were part of your dreams? Is your life still a work in progress, or are you just tending a monument of a life? Are you living the life you want to live, given all the circumstances and limitations that come to be part of our lives?
Our faith is about living life to the fullest, celebrating it and taking part in fashioning our own destinies. Who is the person you want to be tomorrow and what are you doing to get there? And how can a religious community help you to do it? That is what we are here for.
The Rev. Kenneth Torquil MacLean is the new minister for the Juneau Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.