A Curious Faith @ UUCM 5/5/19
Let’s start with a responsive reading. Please turn to #650 in the back of the gray hymnal. Your part is in Italics.
Cherish your Doubts, by Robert T. Weston
Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the handmaiden of truth.
Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge; it is the servant of discovery.
A belief which may not be questioned binds us to error,
for there is incompleteness and imperfection in every belief.
Doubt is the touchstone of truth; it is an acid which eats away the false.
Let no one fear for the truth, that doubt may consume it;
for doubt is a testing of belief.
The truth stands boldly and unafraid; it is not shaken by the testing;
For truth, if it be truth, arises from each testing stronger, more secure.
Those that would silence doubt is filled with fear;
their houses are built on shifting sands.
But those who fear not doubt, and know its use are founded on rock.
They shall walk in the light of growing knowledge;
the work of their hands shall endure.
Therefore let us not fear doubt, but let us rejoice in its help:
It is to the wise as a staff to the blind; doubt is the handmaiden of truth.
I’ve always loved that reading. It helps keep me from being too sure of myself; from thinking I have all the answers. Sorry to say, not one of us has all the answers, which is why we are called to continually engage in our 4thprinciple, a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Curiosity is an essential part of the practice of our faith. We are the type of people that just have to sample the fruit from the tree of knowledge.
Bonnie Withers, in Owning Your Religious Path,says that(Many) “Unitarian Universalists come into the denomination from other religions; often there have been several stops along the path into our congregations. Some bring with them angry and unresolved feelings about experiences in other religious institutions, others have warm memories. Some move easily into an identity as a Unitarian Universalist; others experience a traumatic estrangement from family and from the center of their culture.
We can be most fully and completely present in our religious identity when we see our path as a continuum rather than a series of unrelated episodes. Because we are usually more certain of what we left in another religion than what we bring forward from it, (it can help to) establish connections, bridges, and resonances between (our) past and present.”
A religious path can take many twists and turns. It is a journey that I think never ends but continues for our whole lives and perhaps even beyond death. Those that believe in reincarnation believe that. Personally, I am not sure what happens after we die, but I believe that if our souls do live on that they will continue to change and grow, that we will also find ourselves arriving at new and different understandings.
But even if our path toward spiritual understanding has no definite end, it usually has a beginning.
Most of us can remember a time when we had some sense of the divine, of mystery, a time when we began looking for answers, for something that would give our lives meaning, something that would help us make sense of all the chaos, of all the pain and confusion that we saw around us. We may have been struck with awe at something in the natural world; we may have gazed in wonder at the stars or a new born baby’s face. We may even have experienced that within the walls of a religious institution.
We all have a religious past, even those of us who did not grow up in any faith tradition.
Just out of curiosity, which is the monthly theme after all, how many of you here today did not regularly attend religious services before you entered your teens?
How many of you grew up UU? Jewish? Liberal Christian? Catholic? Conservative Christian, including Mormon? Other religions?
Most of us here have experienced other faith traditions. We have memories of them. Some of those memories are good ones, but others might be haunting us in ways we might not even understand. Particularly for people who were hurt by a religion or by a religious community, anything that reminds them of that can be incredibly painful. I have heard stories from people whose religious leader mentioned them specifically in a prayer in a way that made them feel sinful and wrong.
If our worship service includes a prayer, it might make them nervous as a result of that past.
Others have been judged, shamed, and shunned by their religious community when they expressed disagreement or doubt. Some people, even though they may have rejected the concept of an angry God, still feel some fear when the word God is used.
How can we honor our diverse religious pasts, care for those among us who have been wounded, and move forward together as a community of love and acceptance?
First, I think we need to acknowledge the pain. The hurt some of us knew in other communities is real and it was wrong. There has been abuse, physical and sexual, and perhaps the most damaging of all, spiritual abuse. Too many times our innocent hopes, dreams, and spiritual yearnings have been shattered by the actions of humans and, yes, by demeaning and damaging theologies.
So, if you have been hurt in any of those ways, please know that it was wrong. Please know that you are loved just the way you are, by God if you believe in God, and by those who really do try to love their neighbors as themselves.
Please know too, that others here can relate to those feelings and fears. For myself, I avoided all churches for almost 30 years and even after I found a Unitarian Universalist church, I still freaked out some if God or Jesus were mentioned in the service in a positive way.
I am not in that place anymore.
Part of what I did was to consciously reclaim the good things from the religion I grew up in. It wasn’t a terribly coercive one, so maybe it was easier for me than it has been or will be for some of you.
I was raised in the First Christian Church, which is now part of the Disciples of Christ. I was baptized by full immersion at around age 8 and said yes when I was asked if I took Jesus Christ as my lord and savior. But as mainline Christian Churches go, there wasn’t a lot you had to believe in order to belong; no creed but Christ was their motto. I did not have to worry about the virgin birth or literal interpretations of the Bible. Sunday school was Bible stories, singing songs like “Yes, Jesus loves me,” and memorizing Bible passages. I got a prize once, of a small plastic glow in the dark cross. I loved it!
I left the church in my teen-aged years, shortly after the experience I spoke of earlier. I had questions, doubts. Was I somehow so fundamentally flawed that I needed saving more than once? It seriously creeped me out and I began drifting away. Somewhat later, although still in my teens, when I realized I was a lesbian, I knew the church would not accept that part of me. I felt somewhat relieved that I had left before they decided to kick me out.
But as I have grown into my Unitarian Universalist faith, I have reconciled that experience, and come to understand that I also received gifts in my childhood church home, things that were much more important than a glow-in-the-dark cross. I heard of a loving God and a gentle Jesus.
I learned about the quiet comfort of prayer. I leaned about service to the church as I helped my mother prepare the communion that we shared each Sunday. Grape juice and unsalted crackers, tiny little cups and paper doilies, it represented the Holy and once baptized, I too was allowed to participate. We washed all the little cups afterward by hand. It felt like important work. I think it was.
I loved the singing, and I still love to hear the old songs, even though they do not express my current theology. Milton will be playing a couple of them later in the service.
They are happy songs to me, songs about being loved and held.
If you can reclaim some of the good things from your personal religious history you might just find them comforting. If you grew up Catholic you might find lighting candles particularly meaningful. Be curious about why. What do you like about our worship services that resonates with the positives from your religious past. What feels like it might be missing? Do you yearn for silence, for prayer, for shouting, for incense, for bells, for calling out amen or hallelujah during the sermon? We are all different, with different histories, and I wonder sometimes, I am curious about, whether we can, as a congregation, tolerate a wider diversity of worship styles.
Our current worship practices are not tied to our Unitarian Universalist theology so much as they are to the white, upper class, New England culture of the early Unitarian Church. The Universalists were not nearly so heady, being mainly farmers and working folks.
For those of you who left behind a religion that caused you pain, acknowledge the bad things, the things that moved you to leave. Those were real. You can feel good about your decision to try something different, just as you can feel good about sticking with your childhood faith if that is what you have done.
Cherish your doubts as it said in the earlier responsive reading. Doubt will help us move into the light of growing knowledge and understanding.
But cherish your history as well because if nothing else it has brought you to where you are today.
When I served our congregation in Ogden Utah we had a lay sermon series where our church members shared about what they learned from their childhood faith tradition. It included those who grew up Unitarian Universalist and also those who grew up without any faith at all. There was only one rule. They could not say anything bad about their prior faith. Those that participated found that speaking about the positives was a good way to begin healing from old wounds.
Those of us who listened learned not only about the people who were speaking, but it gave us ideas about what we might want to do differently as a congregation, both in worship, and in our social justice work.
Our hearts can be in a Holy Place, and we can be like that lone wild bird, held by the spirit in a way that is beyond words. “Great Spirit come and rest in me.”
Those words remind me of the yearning I felt as a young teen, standing in the back of a sanctuary, wondering if I dared go forward, wondering if I could possibly be worthy, because my spirit really was longing to be made whole.
And now, I know, deep in my heart, that this faith tells me we are already whole. This religion is an expansive one with plenty of room for our yearnings, for our curiosity, our doubts, and for what feeds our spirits.
During the offering time, if you come up to light a candle or if you just sit quietly, I invite you to reflect some on your own religious history. Acknowledge the bad if there has been hurt there, but also try to see what good you might have put aside in order to avoid pain, things that could still have positive meaning for you. Be curious about it.
Our closing hymn will be about laying some of the burdens we carry down. That song always makes me feel like dancing. I hope it does the same for you. Amen and blessed be.