Spiritual Not Wishy Washy 3/8/15 @thebfuu
You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.
Church is like that, or should be like that.
The full Annie Dillard quote, referenced in our reading is as follows:
“Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”
—Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 40-41.
Now I know a lot of us here don’t believe in any kind supreme being, but whoever is doing the waking up, religious community is about change. If coming on Sunday mornings isn’t changing your life in some way, if it isn’t making you think and feel just a little bit differently than when you walked in, then we aren’t doing our job here. We aren’t fulfilling our mission. Our mission is in our bylaws, and conveniently enough on the front of our order of service.
“Building character, enriching spirits, promoting community, and serving humankind through spiritual growth and social action.”
The mission statement is what this congregation has said it will do. We are part of a proud and active tradition. This weekend, Unitarian Universalists from around the country have gathered in Selma Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march there. 50 years ago, there were more Unitarian ministers at Selma than from any other predominantly white denomination. Clark Olson, then the minister of this fellowship was there. He was with James Reeb when racist thugs attacked them, an encounter that ended Rev. Reeb’s life.
Unitarian Universalists have always worked for justice. It is in our DNA.
Another thing that is in our DNA is that we are changing. Change can be difficult for people and for institutions. Crash helmets really might be a good idea.
Let’s go back to our reading for a minute:
Unitarian Universalist Minister, Tom Schade, in our reading, named four different conceptions of our congregations. (http://www.tomschade.com/2013/05/re-imagining-unitarian-universalism_3544.html)
One – our congregations are places where smart people gather for the intellectual exploration of life issues, in an atmosphere freed of religion dogma.
Is that part of why you are here? If so, raise your hand. You are all smart people, by the way. I don’t care how much formal education you may have had or not had.
Two – our congregations are places to connect to the rebellious and counter-culture trends in society, a place to meet more radical, committed and interesting people there than anywhere else in town.
Is that part of why you are here? If so, raise your hand. Interesting.
Three – our congregations serve as a place for community, a community perhaps more welcoming and supportive than you have found anywhere else.
I think Rev. Schade was wrong to label these “stages” as if they are something that we move through and leave behind. Instead, they are not only part of what we once were, but they are part of what we still are today and part of who we will be in the future. They are in the water, so to speak.
But, what of his fourth so-called stage? Do you have your crash helmets on? Should we issue them to our visitors when they walk in the door?
How many of you come here to be challenged, to wake up, and to become maybe a little off-balance? How many of you want to discover a way to change and improve your own life and also the world around you?
OK, if that rings true for you, please raise your hands. We have some brave souls here!
There has been a lot of conversation going on right now about where Unitarian Universalism is going. Are we the religion for our time or are we going to fade away like most of the mainline protestant denominations seem to be doing?
The Reverend Christine Robinson talked about this a lot as the keynote speaker at our regional assembly a couple of years ago. (http://pwruua.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/RA-Lecture-Rev-Christine-Robinson-4-26-13.pdf)
Her main point was that the religious landscape of America is changing, that the fastest growing group of people in America are those who think of themselves as spiritual but not religious.
“People used to come to us because “We honor your religious freedom,” but that is not bringing many people any more. Now, when people decide that they don’t believe what they were raised to believe, they often go for years without belonging to any congregation, and in the new religious ecology, there’s no pressure to join one. When they decide they want to go to church again, it is not because they want freedom; they’ve had freedom.
They come looking for something that they can’t get in the secular world. They want spiritual instruction, not freedom. They want a safe place to explore what happens to them when they start to deepen their lives.
They come to us because they know their beliefs are not orthodox and because they would feel hypocritical in an orthodox church…. in this they resemble their elders. But once here, they want to do very different things.”
Robison’s guess at a slogan for us is this: “Spiritual growth in a theologically diverse community.”
She also called it, “Spiritual not dogmatic.”
Rev. Robinson did not go into it in detail, but an important part of spiritual growth is sharing that larger spirit into the world, serving others and creating a more just world. Yes, we should be issuing crash helmets.
Another thing we need to be clearer about is our theology. The Rev. Marilyn Sewell tried to define a common Unitarian Universalist theology and listed the following:
“We believe that human beings should be free to choose their beliefs according to the dictates of their own conscience.
We believe in original goodness, with the understanding that sin is sometimes chosen, often because of pain or ignorance.
- We believe that God is One.
- We believe that revelation is ever unfolding.
We believe that the Kingdom of God is to be created here on this earth.
We believe that Jesus was a prophet of God, and that other prophets from God have risen in other faith traditions.
- We believe that love is more important than doctrine.
We believe that God’s mercy will reconcile all unto itself in the end.”
Now, those work really well for me. I agree with them. But then again, I believe in God, although my understanding of God is nothing like the understanding of clergy from more orthodox traditions. Some of the atheists had a huge problem with her use of the word God. It probably made a number of you feel like you are being excluded from what was stated to be a common theology.
I think if her ideas were simply rearranged, however, and a small phrase added, then there would not be the same level of controversy about them.
Listen again, and see if they work better for you.
“We believe that human beings should be free to choose their beliefs according to the dictates of their own conscience.” Agree? Raise your hand. It is our fourth principle somewhat restated.
“We believe in original goodness, with the understanding that sin is sometimes chosen, often because of pain or ignorance.” Raise your hand.
Then for the next five, let’s add the words, “if we believe in God or if we were to believe in a God,” The addition of those words should be helpful for the atheists and agnostics among us.
“We believe that God is One.” Raise your hands.
“We believe that revelation is ever unfolding.” Raise your hands.
“We believe that the Kingdom of God is to be created here on this earth.” Raise your hands.
“We believe that Jesus was a prophet of God, and that other prophets from God have risen in other faith traditions.” Raise your hands.
We believe that God’s mercy will reconcile all unto itself in the end.” Raise your hands.
And finally, and this one is I think the most important of all:
“We believe that love is more important than doctrine.” Raise your hands.
None of that was 100%, but it was pretty close, and it really is a distinctive theology, particularly among denominations that are part of the Christian tradition, as we have been and still are in many ways.
Those of us that believe in God believe in a merciful loving God, not a judgmental or punishing one.
Those of us that believe in an afterlife do not believe in a hell where people are punished after we die.
I could go on, but being a Unitarian Universalist, is not a “believe whatever you want,” kind of religion.
So my hope for our new members, and for our longer-term members as well, is that you find here not only what you are looking for, but also what you might need.
I hope that being involved in this congregation makes you think, and I hope you find the ideas and the other people here interesting. I hope you feel welcome and supported in this community. And I hope that you sometimes feel challenged, surprised, and maybe even a little off balance. I hope you discover ways to improve your own life and to make this world a better place for all who share this planet with us.
What do you want? What do you need?
Feel it. Imagine it. Make it so.