How Do UUs Understand Right Relations?

January 11, 2019

From the Right Relations Education Team: Marion Torchia, Marilyn Emery, and Debbie Trent

Let’s say that one recent day, in a public place off the Cedar Lane campus, two members of the congregation spent more than an hour in close proximity without greeting each other. They could have been respecting each other’s privacy. Prior, they have interacted with civility, although disagreeing at times about one issue or another, inside and outside Cedar Lane. Had they instead been on the campus, might they have at least made eye contact and exchanged smiles? We’d like to think so.

Becoming familiar with our Covenant of Right Relations helps evaluate what’s going on in this encounter (or lack of encounter, depending on your perspective). At least when they are next together at Cedar Lane, they might make a more informed, intentional choice about how to communicate. They can choose to be less intimidated or fearful of conflict when next faced with greeting each other there. It might be a bit uncomfortable, but it will be a step toward honesty and trust.

We covenant in right relations because we believe in the individual’s right to freedom of expression. We come from so many different spiritual, theological, and secular places. Yet, our common humanity, social nature, and need for belonging are nurtured through caring relationships. We require them, yet they are a challenging privilege and we shouldn’t take them for granted. There’s a good deal of creative tension in upholding individual freedom and beloved community. How do we bond to serve our individual and mutual needs?

Words are important. Small talk is good, and sometimes gossip, too, can be helpful when not mean-spirited. Alternatively, taking the time for direct 1:1 conversation can be life-changing.

What is “right” for building and deepening relationship? In our beloved, ever-diversifying community, we work on…

  • Being aware and respectful of each other’s cultural, generational, and political identity
  • Approaching one another with open-mindedness
  • Humility
  • Listening more than speaking
  • Self- and mutual respect
  • Being situationally appropriate
  • Finding and sharing gratitude and joy
  • Practicing curiosity but not intrusiveness
  • Accepting risk without intentionally inflicting harm
  • Sensing but not judging different dependencies, whether financial, social, physical, emotional, or intellectual
  • Trust.

As we covenant, we assume interpersonal trust, but that doesn’t preclude conflict and risk-taking. Getting back to the opening example, choosing to communicate verbally rather than not, creating a situation with unpredictable outcome, and being willing tolerate some discomfort.

How else do we govern our relationships? We enact right relations thought by thought, conversation by conversation, task by task, and project by project. We make meaning of what feels right in our beloved community. When we make hurtful mistakes, we can give each other the benefit of the doubt, try to understand, seek fairness and justice, and begin again in love.

The poetess Rupi Kaur offers an untitled verse from her latest volume, The Sun and Her Flowers, which seems fitting, here:

to hate
is an easy lazy thing
but to love
takes strength
everyone has
but not all are
willing to practice

Right relations are what each of us chooses to make them. We have the strength of each other’s commitment to help us enact our covenant.

The Cedar Lane Board has established a Right Relations Team to launch a wide-ranging conversation about these important questions. We welcome and need your responses to get the conversation going. Please contact us at