Mutual Aid, Social-Cooperation, Civic Activity, Hospitality, and Caring for Others

Last Sunday, I preached about our Unitarian Universalist theological inheritance/mission to soundly reject the Calvinist doctrine about human nature, that it is characterized by “total depravity.”

This isn’t just a philosophical exercise. This past year, I believe we’ve seen a glimpse of some of the challenges of the future: global disease, unusual weather events in unprepared areas, infrastructure failures.

How will we prepare for that future?

I believe that community is the answer. We need to learn, and to teach our children, the skills that thousands of years of humans have used – how to make relationships, build community, and work together.

The first step in being able to build community is addressing an idea that’s in our minds, though probably not of our own making: the destructive Calvinist idea that we should reflexively look at others with suspicion and cynicism. Working to see others as potential partners rather than enemies will better equip us for the work ahead.

Those looking to the past to get ideas about how to build the future have a new resource. Historians and anthropologists are buzzing about the book The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow.

As William Deresiewicz in The Atlantic writes in his review, the authors address what defines a society and what will we need to create for the future, concluding it’s “mutual aid, social co-operation, civic activism, hospitality [and] simply caring for others.” 

Live Oak is a laboratory and training institute for just such a future. At this church, service to the church and the wider community is where we practice those very elements: mutual aid, social-cooperation, civic activity, hospitality, and caring for others.

The pandemic has been hard. (SO hard!) And we’re not done with it yet. But we can take what we’ve learned during this time to help us chart the future, not only for this congregation, but as a primer for building community in the world that is coming. What did we do well? What could we have done better?

To reject the Calvinist belief in total depravity doesn’t mean becoming credulous and gullible. It means that we train ourselves to make our starting assumption that most people are mostly good, most of the time.

And that’s a great starting point for rebuilding community.