I sat down to write this column on December 21, the shortest day of the year, and just a few days before the Christmas holiday. As I write, I’m looking forward to wrapping up our service on the 26th and spending some time with my family, including a little sister I have not seen in person since 2019. It is also a day when I have spent much of the morning hearing alarming news about the oncoming Omicron wave, and the day that the Lincoln Lancaster County Dept. of Health announced that Lincoln’s mask mandate will expire.
A few reminders, then, of the intentions we bring to our community as we begin a new year: We Universalists have known for a long time that we do the right thing not because it is required, but because there is intrinsic value in doing so. Our theological ancestors argued that it is wrong (abhorrent, even) to base a system of morality on a fear of eternal punishment. If the only reason I do not punch someone on the street is that I am afraid of hell, what does that say about who I am? Better instead to assume that I am capable of embracing, rather than hating, and that doing so helps to mend a broken world.
This is the core of Universalist morality: we do not need some threat of divine punishment to care for our neighbors, we do it because caring for each other is its own reward.
This matters, in the midst of another winter of pandemic. Doing the right thing - wearing masks, getting vaccinated, respecting each other’s risk tolerances - is a thing that we do because of our commitments to each other, not because it is required by some external authority.
I am worried about what this winter holds. It is a season, as Wendell Berry writes when “despair for the world grows in me/and I wake in the night at the least sound/in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be.” But there is also consolation in this community. A community that shows that despite what the world looks like some days, there are a few hundred people in Lincoln, Nebraska who choose to gather together and help mend a broken world, simply because it is the right thing to do.