Living religiously is being active, helping neighbors

Posted Feb. 20, 2009, at 5:39 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:47 a.m.

I fell a few days ago, and when I hit the ice, I felt something snap. I found that I could not get up because of the pain in my right arm and because there was no purchase on the ice. This occurred on a not-so-busy street in Bangor.

Relatively soon a woman drove by, noticed me, and called 911. A detective from the Maine Department of Motor Vehicles stopped and reassured me with gentleness that it would be OK, placing his coat over my drenched self, holding his umbrella over me in the pouring rain. The paramedics arrived and, with great kindness as well as expertise, lifted me into the ambulance for the drive to St. Joseph Hospital.

It was my first visit ever to an emergency room in my 61 years of life, and I was treated with great care as well as professionalism by the nurses, doctors and staff. A clergy colleague offered comfort and prayed with me. I had not broken anything, I was told, but had injured my rotator cuff. It would hurt, but I would be OK — this said with the greatest of concern. Some congregants took charge of me and got me home and settled.

I cannot say enough about how I was blessed with such generosity of spirit and action — all in a city where I am new and relatively unknown. I was the stranger and I was cared for. The people of Bangor were indeed a parable of caring for others as one would care for oneself.

Religion is more than words and rituals; it is a way of living. It isn’t so much what we believe but how we act out our beliefs that is important. I have absolutely no idea of the religious faiths of those who cared for me that day on the ice. That didn’t matter. What matters is that they all showed care, compassion, gentleness and support as humans helping another human. They were living their religion, whatever it was.

Some call the golden rule the “ethic of reciprocity.” Every major religion from Baha’i to Hinduism to Confucianism to Islam to Shinto to Zoroastrianism — every major religion has the message of ethical reciprocity. My faith tradition, Unitarian Universalism, has as its first principle the belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

In Luke 6:31 (King James Version) it says: “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” In Leviticus 19:18 is says: “[T]hou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Our Judeo-Christian culture has as its foundation the ethic of helping others.

This year we are living in difficult times. Every day we hear more bad news. Our economy is in the worst place it has been in decades, and given the magnitude of the downward spiral and the cautionary words of our new president, we can expect that it will only get worse. We feel helpless against the overwhelming enormity of the fallout from this “recession.”

No single one of us can have an impact on this huge issue. In fact, this sense of helplessness is somewhat learned. We look at the complexity of the issues, we look at the size of the resulting problems, and we in our singularly isolated culture know that we can’t do anything substantive. Sadly, I think this may become our perspective, our worldview.

My religion is one of action — as is yours. There is no religion that does not use active verbs in their scriptures — the primary verb in the Golden Rule is DO. The action encouraged is LOVE. If we adopt this perspective, that is, one of doing and loving, we move beyond the limited perspective of learned helplessness. We move to helping others; we live our religious values.

It is easy for me to say — do; it is more difficult doing the doing. That said, let us be clear. There are incredible opportunities now for doing, for helping your neighbor. Even if your neighbor actually is a stranger, or is “different,” you can still help that worthy person out.

If you are churched, I am sure there are many opportunities within your congregation to help the community. There are warming centers, bean suppers, food banks and clothing centers. There are church funds that help people with fuel, food and housing. You can volunteer your time, and-or you can give from your financial resources. There are also many opportunities within our Bangor area communities for nonfaith-based help.

Help does not need to come from church to be given religiously.

Will any one of us have a huge impact? Yes, for the individuals being helped. No, not for the monumental issues. But, think about it. What if we all did something for someone who needs some help right now? What if we in Bangor became a model for living the ethic of reciprocity? Yes, we could have an impact, a huge impact.

Bangor became a more religious community the day I fell on the ice — at least to me. There were at least a dozen people who helped me out that day. They were living religiously; now I just have to do the same. How about you?

The Rev. Becky Gunn is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor. She may be reached at uubeckygunn@aol.com. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.

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