“Intimacy, Ultimacy, and Efficacy”
Rev. Douglas Taylor

According to an article dated March 11, 2010 in Forbes magazine, “We all have three basic human needs.” This article in the leadership section of the premier business periodical goes on to tell us, “We need to be connected to other people, we need to know that our work matters, and we need leaders who respond to those first two needs when times are tough.”

“Intimacy and ultimacy” the article tells us, “are the two universal human quests. Our deepest desire is to have close personal relationships while we’re on this planet and to make a contribution that will last when we’re not.” Theologians generally agree with this business magazine on the basic needs of human beings: Intimacy and Ultimacy. The article, written for business leaders, adds a third basic need: business leaders who can tell employees how to get those first two needs met.

Leaders who actively reinforce and nurture these core desires engage people on a level that transcends money and market conditions. People are eager to be part of something bigger than themselves. In fact, when deprived of the chance to do so, they grow desperate for it. Leaders who connect on an emotional level and provide their people with meaningful context can ignite a passion that transcends [financial] uncertainty. (Forbes magazine, 3-11-10, “How To Keep Your Employees Focused And Functioning, Even Now” by Lisa Earle McLeod)

A couple of generations back, a great Unitarian Theologian named James Luther Adams said that people come to churches for “ultimacy and intimacy.” (Robert L. Hill, The Complete Guide to Small Group Ministry: Saving the World Ten At A Time, p. 3.) Colleague Rev. John Morgan writes about a time he heard Adams speak in which the theologian explained that “they come to wrestle with life’s ultimate questions. Who am I? In what or in whom do I trust? In what community do I belong? And they came for a sense of intimacy, a safe place in which they could be accepted while making connections with others.” (John Morgan’s The Devotional Heart)

Occasionally, in prayers I write for worship, I will include the phrase “Deeper meaning and richer connection.” Intimacy is finding richer connection, and ultimacy is finding deeper meaning in our lives.

Do you remember when you first came to Unitarian Universalism? Or the first time you came to this particular congregation? What were you looking for? What were you hoping to find? A lot of times people will be seeking after exactly what James Luther Adams was talking about: “ultimacy and intimacy.” We may not say it such grand words, but pared down to the phrase “deeper meaning and richer connections,” the assertion seems to carry for the majority of situations. People come seeking ultimacy and intimacy.

When I think about all this, however, I wonder if there might be a third component needed to round out the message, a third element to really cover what is drawing people and keeping people in faith communities such as ours. And I don’t think the third “basic human need” is leaders to remind people of their connections and their meaningfulness – despite the arguments presented in the Forbes magazine article. Rather, I suggest the third basic human need is efficacy or maybe the word would be agency, I’m not settled on how to name it so as to make it fit both accurately and poetically with ultimacy and intimacy.

The current PR slogan offered by the Unitarian Universalist Association is “Nurture your spirit, help heal our world.” There is an element of activism in the central workings of Unitarian Universalism and it is in response to a basic human need to make a difference in the world, a need perhaps to serve life is some way. For Unitarian Universalists, it is to live our faith out loud in the world, to put our faith in action.

Perhaps the search for deeper meaning, for ultimacy, covers the call to make the world a better place. And maybe the yearning for richer connections, for intimacy, already encompasses the feeling we get when we reach out to people in need. I think an argument could be made that the terms “ultimacy and intimacy” are sufficient, that a third element is not needed. Yet when I look around this congregation and see what draws our attention, I am convinced the yearning to fulfill a third basic need is at work among us.

Colleague Peter Bowden talked about this in his blog (uugrowth.com/2009/10/30) last fall: Intimacy, ultimacy, and efficacy. He called it connection, meaning and inspired action. “Inspired action” may be a better phrase. Efficacy feels a little too much like a business model word. Were our goals actualized to their maximum potentials? How effective were our programs? What is the efficacy of our mission objectives? Maybe it’s just me, but efficacy doesn’t quite sound right.

One of the responses to Peter Bowden’s blog also took issue with the word efficacy. He wrote that a person could log on to a Charity Navigator website to find a highly efficient charity and send them pile of money. That would be highly effective. Such action, however, will probably not “feed the spiritual hunger for service.”

What I’m trying to convey is the sense that in this congregation we work to have integrity between our beliefs and our actions, for our faith is lived out in our behavior, that our search for meaning lead us to inspired actions in the world. I suppose with some translation, efficacy can mean all that. If you think about it, the word intimacy does not usually convey a religious sense of connection so much as a romantic and private feeling of closeness with one person. These three words – intimacy, ultimacy, and efficacy – would need basic translation and clarification for use even in a religious setting.

If you went outside and someone asked you – Hey, you just came out of the building, what is that place all about?’ and you answered saying “intimacy, ultimacy and efficacy,” that person would probably run the other way. But if you were to say “richer connections, deeper meaning, and inspired action” – well, now you’re having a conversation.

In a way, I think these three basic human needs are as close as Unitarian Universalists come to offering a salvation message. This is our salvation story: that you can come into a community like this one for connection, meaning, and a call to service.

Congregational consultant, Loren Mead of the Alban Institute writes, a congregation is called to “… assist more and more people to identify what needs of the world cry out from them; and nurture and support each person and send each one forth to respond to these needs with his or her unique gifts.” (Loren Mead, Transforming Congregations for the Future) Such a sentiment reminds me of that quote from Howard Thurman: “Ask not what the world most needs. Ask instead what makes you come alive, and then go do it. For what the world most needs are people who have come alive.” (Paraphrased from memory)

Our faith must be embodied. As Unitarian Universalists, this is an important piece of how we do religion. Historically, Unitarians are characterized as fiercely free thinkers. The great documents of our Unitarian history highlight rational arguments about such doctrine of the Unity of God, the Humanity of Christ, and the Freedom of Conscience of human beings. The Unitarian side of our lineage is a litany of careful thinkers. At least, that is one fair representation of the Unitarian side of our heritage. Of course, there is more to it, but it is not inaccurate to say that as Unitarians we are a rather heady, intellectual bunch.

The Universalist side of our family, on the other hand, is commonly contrasted as the heart of our merged faith. The Universalists say the God’s love is the biggest part of life and all else follows. In the same way that the characterization of Unitarians as all “head” is generally fair though certainly inaccurate, so, too, can we say that the Universalists were all heart.” I am blurring some nuances and distinctions, but I will say our heritage brings us the quest for deeper meaning and ultimacy from our Unitarian side and the search for richer connections and intimacy from our Universalist side.

There are, however, several striking examples in our tradition of individuals who combined head and heart, who merged the call for deeper meaning and richer connections together. Witness these lines from a prayer by Unitarian preacher and activist Theodore Parker,

O God, may we join the human race in daring to live in the prophetic spirit: seeking inspiration like the seers and sages of this and other lands, judging the past as they, acting on the present like them, envisioning a new and nobler era of the spirit.

May we have communities for the whole person: truth for the mind, good works for the hands, love for the heart; and for the soul that aspiring after perfection, that unfaltering faith in life, which like lightning in the clouds, shines brightest when elsewhere it is most dark.

His prayer calls for “communities for the whole person: truth for the mind, good works for the hands, love for the heart.” It’s not exact, but pretty close. Parker could be tugging on the same themes I am this morning of ultimacy and truth for the mind, good works and efficacy for the hands, love and intimacy for the heart.
There is a conservative Fox news pundit celebrity named Glen Beck who talks about conspiracy theories and odd ideas. A week or so ago he urged his listeners to check their church websites to see if they had “social justice” programs or anything of that sort that advocated for justice. And if they found such programs in their churches, Beck said they should leave those churches immediately.

But he was trying to be a centrist when he said if your church leans left (I’m guessing he means politically?) and talks about social justice, then you are worshiping among Communists, and if your church leans right (politically?) and talks about social justice, then you are worshipping among Nazis. He lists issues such as “economic justice, rights of the workers, redistribution of wealth, and (the promotion of) democracy” as typical social justice issues.

Normally, I wouldn’t bother mentioning such mindless, fear-mongering but this bubbled up just as I was preparing this service and I thought: this talking head wants to block people of faith from working for justice. He wants people of faith to be docile and uninvolved. Well, if I have conveyed Mr. Beck’s position with any accuracy, I must admit I am wholly flummoxed as to how he reaches such conclusions. To each their own, I suppose, and those who follow such a man do so surely for reasons other than logic and clarity of thought.

For me and mine, I say social justice, inspired action, efficacy, working to heal the world – however you call it – is as core a reason for this congregation’s continued existence as intimacy and ultimacy. It is part of our work to build a better world, to co-create the beloved community.

To truly seek intimacy and ultimacy, one would do well to be thoughtfully engaged, to be involved in actions that live out the commitments one has found through intimacy and ultimacy.  To abstain entirely from justice work, from striving to heal the world and make it a better place, to say you are not going to muck around in that “justice-stuff” is a disservice to the faithful pursuit of a spiritual life.  “Faith without works is dead.”

For if we are not the ones who will change the world and bring a better day, who will? As I close, let me give a nod to the business world. I began the sermon with a tweak at Forbes magazine’s presumption, but in truth, I am impressed by the way some in the business world see clearly to the heart of life. Hear these words from a commercial for “Apple,” but also as a call for each of us this morning to be more radically human and alive than otherwise.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

In a world without end,
May it be so.