Tag Archive | 7 principles

A Principled Path @ UUCM 1/6/19

promise-2 

This month’s worship theme is on covenant.  A covenant is essentially a promise, but it is a deeper and more faithful promise than an ordinary one.  It is not easy or thoughtless.

 

Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher that lived in 400 BCE is quoted as saying that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

 

I am not sure that I completely agree with him on that. Life, all life, has value.  There are animals that do not have a capacity for self-reflection, but their lives are worth living.  Those of you who have shared your lives with special animal friends know this to be true.

 

But Socrates’ point is a good one.  Because we have thecapacity to examine our lives, it can be a waste to simply live them without ever thinking about their meaning.

 

The 20thcentury Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams took Socrates’ statement in a different direction.  He said:

 

“An unexamined faith is not worth having, for it can be true only by accident. A faith worth having is faith worth discussing and testing…

No authority, including the authority of individual conviction, is rightly exempt from discussion and criticism.”

Adams was also pretty blunt when he said:

 

“The free person does not live by an unexamined faith. To do so is to worship an idol whittled out and made into a fetish. . . . the faith that cannot be discussed is a form of tyranny.” (Adams, The Prophethood of All Believers 1986, 48).

An unexamined faith is not worth having.

 

So how do we, as Unitarian Universalists, examine our faith?  How do we examine our lives and learn how to follow a principled path, one that makes us feel more alive and one that can help us make a positive difference for our world?

 

We don’t have a common creed, a set of particular beliefs.  As individuals, we have many different ideas about God, and we have a wide variety of opinions about almost everything.

 

We do have some things, however, that we have agreed upon.  Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what those things are?

 

Yes, we have our seven principles.

In case you can’t remember them, they are listed in the front of the grey hymnal.  It might be useful to turn to them.  Note the words at the beginning, “we the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association covenant to affirm and promote.”

The UU Congregation of Marin is one of those member congregations.  We have, as a religious institution, covenanted, or promised, to affirm and promote the seven principles.

 

Some people consider our seven principles a creed. Many of us when we first read them, said, “That is exactly what I believe!” I did that.

But let’s examine those principles. Note that the introductory line doesn’t say “we believe.”  It says that we covenant – that we promise to affirm and promote those seven things. As Unitarian Universalists, we make promises; promises to do things. The seven principles of Unitarian Universalism are not statements of belief, but rather constitute an action plan that we try to follow both as congregations and as individuals. Action plans! Don’t you love it?

What is your favorite principle? Call it out!

 

The majority of Unitarian Universalists are most strongly drawn to either to our first principle or to our seventh.   They are certainly the most often quoted in sermons and in conversations when you are trying to explain to someone what Unitarian Universalism is all about.

 

And while people can certainly have favorite principles, I believe it is also important to examine them together.

 

Our first principle uplifts the rights of the individual and asks us to respect everyone’s inherent worth and dignity.    The seventh principle, respect for the interconnected web, asks us to remember than we are all part of something much larger than ourselves.

 

(Holding up hands) The first principle is about the individual and the seventh is about community. Individual – community.  How do we hold those two in balance?  We can sometimes struggle with the tension between those two principles.  I know I did as a supervisor and as a new Unitarian Universalist.  I had to weigh the needs and problems of an individual employees with the needs of both the larger work team and the mission we were charged with accomplishing.

 

The tension between these two principles can also surface within our churches.

 

How does a congregation respond to an individual whose behavior is truly disruptive, maybe someone who makes racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or sexist comments? If we can’t find a way to call them back into covenant and remind them of our first principle, what do we do?

Do we ignore it, or do we find ways to encourage them to change their behavior so that we can create the warm and welcoming religious community we all want and need?

 

Being welcoming to all does not necessarily mean being welcoming to all types of behavior.

Sometimes the balance has to shift from the individual toward the interconnected web, or community side of the equation.  It is never simple.  This isn’t an easy faith.

 

Sometimes it can feel like there is an inherent conflict between our first and seventh principles.  Maybe we should just choose one and be done with it.

 

It gets easier if you consider them in relationship with each other.

 

Isn’t part of respecting someone’s worth and dignity letting them know when they are doing something that diminishes or damages another person or group of people? Sometimes it is more respectful to speak the truth and offer the possibility of change, than simply saying, “Oh, that’s just the way they are; they always do that.”

 

Similarly, the seventh principle respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part is about a lot more than respecting the environment.

It says we are all connected.  It says every individual with all of their inherent worth and dignity is connected to every other individual.

 

Sometimes we forget that we have seven principles, not just two, and that they are all interrelated. The first and seventh principles are like bookends, and we need to take the time to read the books as well.

 

What’s in the middle of the bookshelf? What is our 4th principle?  It is OK to look it up.

 

Bingo. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning is the correct answer.

 

I would argue that the 4thprinciple is the most important one and that the other 6 lead us there, supporting us on the path of examining our lives and our faith.

Our second principle, justice, equity and compassion in human relations points to the sixth, the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;

The second principle is about how we promise to treat individuals, while the sixth is what that means on a larger scale.  It is the same as the relationship between the 1stand seventh. Individual — community.

The second and sixth also define the goals or mission that follow from the first and seventh principles: positive and respectful relationships between all people and all nations.

The third principle is acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations and the fifth is the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;

Those two contain some of the specifics of the action plan.  Accept one another, encourage spiritual growth, respect the right of conscience and use the democratic process when making decisions.

They tell us what to do as we engage in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Free (one hand) Responsible (other hand)

Individual – Community

Our principles contain the essence of dramatic tension. Everyone who wants to live ethically, in right relationship to other people and to the world, to examine their life and their faith, struggles with contradictions.  How do we search for truth and meaning?  How do we discover the meaning of our lives and what we are called to do with them?

Today is Epiphany in the Christian tradition.  One definition of epiphany is a, usually sudden, perception of the essential nature or meaning of something.  As we examine our faith and our lives, sometimes we are looking for an epiphany, an understanding that will help lead us on our life’s journey.

But how can we begin that search for truth and meaning?

The Buddha sat beneath a tree waiting for enlightenment. Moses climbed a mountain. Jesus went into the wilderness.  They were seeking truth and meaning, wondering what their lives were really about, what their “action plan” should be.

Haven’t we all experienced that feeling?  We wonder why we are here, if our life has any purpose, any meaning beyond whatever societal success we might attain or not.  What is the point?

Does it really matter what we do and how we live?

To find the answers to those questions, we have to go deep, very deep, inside of ourselves.  We have to look in the mirror and see our whole selves, our failings as well as our gifts.  Who am I? Why am I here?  What am I called to do?

Who are you? Why are you here?

What will you do with your one wild and precious life, as the poet Mary Oliver asks?

Sitting with those feelings can be scary.

Fear has so many dimensions: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of ridicule, fear of power, fear of the unknown.

But while we are sitting beneath the tree, while we are wandering in the metaphorical desert, while we are drawing in whatever wisdom we can find, we also need to be turning ourselves inside out, and finding a path into the world.

The Buddha did not stay beneath his tree, he was called by the suffering he saw around him to go back into the world.  Moses came down from the mountain to lead his people to the Promised Land.  Jesus came back from the desert and began casting out demons and healing the sick.  Harriet Tubman went back down south to free more slaves.

Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

 

There is a place, deep within each of us, that knows what will make us come alive. We can follow a principled path.

I will end with these words by Leslie Becknell:

“What kind of case could be made to convict you of full-fledged whole-hearted Unitarian Universalism? What do you do when life calls on you to live out your principles? When someone’s opinion is different than yours. When someone at the committee meeting interrupts and goes off on a tangent. When your beloved doesn’t take out the trash. . . . When you request that your employer make a policy change. When you are living your life every day.

I won’t challenge you to memorize the principles. I invite you to learn them by heart and be willing to back them up with the life you lead”

 

From: “Learning the Principles by Heart” Leslie Becknell

Amen and blessed be

 

Promises, Promises

promise

 

Call to worship (here)

Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal faith, not a creedal one. What does that mean?

Theodore Parker had this to say:

“Be ours a religion which like sunshine goes everywhere, its temple all space, its shrine the good heart, its creed all truth, its ritual works of love.”

Theodore Parker, a 19th century Unitarian Minister, is one of my favorites partly because it is said he wrote his sermons with a pistol on his desk because he usually had fugitive slaves hidden in the parsonage.

His ritual really was works of love. Naming our creed all truth was also a definite challenge to the religious mainstream of his day.

Being a creedless faith does not mean we don’t believe in anything.

Creed, by definition, is a system, doctrine, or formula of religious belief. The most famous is the Apostles Creed, the Roman Catholic version:

I believe in God,

the Father almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth,

and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died and was buried;

he descended into hell;

on the third day he rose again from the dead;

he ascended into heaven,

and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;

from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and life everlasting.

 

There are variations – the Lutherans say “Holy Christian Church” rather than holy catholic church, I guess to avoid confusion.

 

A creed is a statement of beliefs that are taken on faith. Members of religious institutions that have creeds are expected to agree with the beliefs specified in that creed. If you question the Virgin birth, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, or his unique divinity as the only son of God, you can be labeled a heretic. During the reformation, many were burned at the stake for that kind of questioning. Today, people are excommunicated from some faiths because they do not believe or follow all of a church’s teaching.

Parker’s line, “creed all truth,” was an affirmation that people should believe what is true and that truth is subject to testing, to analysis, to science as well as personal experience. Unitarian Universalists believe things. As individuals we all have beliefs, some of which we hold fiercely and passionately. There are also a lot of beliefs that we hold in common with one another. Those beliefs are not a creed, however, because they are not a requirement. They are also subject to change based upon new knowledge or new experience. “Our Creed all truth” but what that truth may be at any given time or for any given person is open to both questioning and doubt.

 

Some people consider our seven principles a creed. Many of us when we first read them, say, “oh yes, that is exactly what I believe!” Let’s look at them now if you will. They are on the back of the order of service. Please note the introductory lines. It does not begin with “I believe” like the apostles creed.   It says instead that we covenant – and what does covenant mean? Simply, a covenant is just a promise. As Unitarian Universalists we make promises; promises to do things. The seven principles of Unitarian Universalism are not statements of belief, but rather action plans that we try to follow both as congregations and as individuals. Action plans! Don’t you love it?

 

 

What matters most is not what we believe, but what we do, how we treat other people and how we care for our planet. That is a lot harder work than simply saying you believe in the virgin birth.

 

Am I treating that person that bugs me with respect? Am I fair and just when I deal with others?

Am I working toward the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all?

OK, I guess you have to believe that these are good things to do, so beliefs are a part of it. But the key is not the belief, but the promise of action.

 

We are described as a covenantal faith because we are a promise making people. We make promises to each other and do our best to be faithful to those promises.

 

Many of our Unitarian Universalist congregations have also adopted congregational covenants that contain promises about how we will be together in a religious community. A sample is as follows:

 

“As a member of our Unitarian Universalist community, I covenant to affirm and promote our Unitarian Universalist principles. I am mindful, that as an individual and as a member of this community, I am accountable for my words, deeds, and behavior.   Therefore, whenever we worship, work, or relate to one another, I covenant that I will:

 

 

 

Treat others with kindness and care, dignity and respect;

Foster an environment of compassion, generosity, fellowship, and
creativity;

Share in the responsibilities of congregational life;

Speak truth as I experience it and listen to all points of view;

Practice direct communication.  Speak to the individual –

not about them;

Act with respect and humility when I disagree with others;

Seek out understanding and wisdom in the presence of conflict;

Be true to my chosen path although the way may twist and turn, and
 support others on their journeys;

Resolve conflicts through intentional compromise and collaboration
 and, when necessary, request facilitation and/or mediation. “

 

Our board of trustees is in the midst of discussing adopting such a covenant for themselves, and is also considering proposing something similar for the congregation to discuss and then vote on. Such covenants have been proven to enhance the positive feeling of community and to reduce the rancor that can be involved in some conflict situations.

 

Speaking directly to each other and not about each other is probably the hardest promise in that covenant.   What fun it is to complain to a sympathetic ear about something someone else has done! How much harder it is to tell the person directly that you don’t like what they did and why.

 

One point on that: it really isn’t necessary to tell people to their face every little thing we don’t like about them. We all have personal flaws and quirks that it would be a bit rude to have pointed out to us. We all make mistakes. But if we are upset enough about something that we begin to gossip or complain to others about someone else, then we need to express those feelings directly.   It is about respect. It is how most of us would like to be treated. It also prevents misinformation from being spread and the community being torn apart by rumor and innuendo. Acting with respect and humility when you disagree with someone is also important. None of us can be right all of the time, and opinions expressed in arrogance are destructive in a religious community.

 

So no creed, but what do Unitarian Universalists believe? Has anyone here ever been asked that question? It can be a hard one, because there is not a simple answer to what is really the wrong question.

 

When someone asks that question, they are usually asking for a creed, for something that all Unitarian Universalists believe.

One way to answer is to say that we believe different things based on what makes sense to us as individuals. Some of us believe in God and some of us don’t. It can help here to say what you believe.

We don’t have a creed as a faith community, but as individuals many of us have personal credos. (kree- dough)

 

There is a curriculum for youth which includes drafting their own statements of belief, which is what a credo is. It is a good exercise for adults as well. What do you believe about God, about what happens after you die, about the purpose and meaning of life? Those are questions worth exploring.

 

Creeds, in and of themselves, are not bad things. It helps to know what you believe, because what you believe matters. Is all human life sacred? What does that mean to you in terms of supporting the death penalty? Are children born good, evil, or do they have potential for both? What does that mean to you if you are a parent or a teacher?

 

One of the especially sweet things about Unitarian Universalism is that we can have a wide variety of individual credos, a wide variety of beliefs, but can still decide to be together in religious community.   You can believe in the Apostles creed that I read earlier and be a Unitarian Universalist.

 

You can be an atheist, a pagan, a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, you can hold any theology that makes sense to you.

 

You can still be figuring out what you believe, and you can change your mind about what that is over time.

 

The question, “What do Unitarian Universalists believe?” as I said, is really the wrong question. A better one is perhaps, “What is Unitarian Universalism?”

The best answer is that Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal faith. We are bound together by our promises. Covenants are not contracts, but statements of intent. How we live into those promises, the actions we take in our lives and in the world are what matters.

 

Covenants also aren’t rules or laws. You don’t go to jail or get throw out of the community if you break your promises from time to time. We all break our promises sometimes. We are human and we do not always live up to our best intentions. But living according to covenant can bring us back to those intentions when we fail short. We can forgive each other and ourselves. Then, we can we begin again together in love.

 

Bottom line, the test of faith in a Unitarian Universalist congregation is not about believing the right thing; it is rather about doing what is right. May we all strive to live up to our highest aspirations for the good.

Namaste

A Principled Path

1979620_10203042807898680_1342923190_nTwo young girls from the neighborhood attended church this morning, coming on their own for the second time.  They have clearly already made a friend, and this week they sang in our choir – one did the solo for “Hush”

Video is posted (here)

 

Call to Worship (here)

 Socrates, that ancient Greek philosopher that lived in 400 BCE is quoted as saying that the unexamined life is not worth living.

I am not sure that I completely agree with him. Life, all life, has value. There are animals that do not have the capacity for self-reflection that we humans have, but their lives are certainly worth living.  Those of you who have shared your lives with animal friends know this to be true.

But Socrates’ point is a good one. Because we can examine our lives, it is a waste to simply live our lives without ever thinking about what they mean.

20th century Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams took Socrates’ statement in a different direction. He said,

“An unexamined faith is not worth having, for it can be true only by accident. A faith worth having is faith worth discussing and testing…No authority, including the authority of individual conviction, is rightly exempt from discussion and criticism. (Adams, The Prophethood of All Believers 1986, 48).

Adams was pretty blunt about it.

“The free person does not live by an unexamined faith. To do so is to worship an idol whittled out and made into a fetish.

The free person believes with Socrates that the true can be separated from the false only through observation and rational discussion. In this view the faith that cannot be discussed is a form of tyranny.”

An unexamined faith is not worth having.

So how do we, as Unitarian Universalists, examine our faith? How do we examine our lives and learn how to follow a principled path, one that makes us feel more alive and one that makes a difference for our world.

We don’t have a common creed.  As individuals we have many different ideas about God, we have a wide variety of opinions about almost everything really.

We do have some things, however, that we have agreed upon. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what those things are?

Yes, we have our seven principles that can help guide us in our lives. What is your favorite principle? Call it out!

The majority of Unitarian Universalists are most strongly drawn to either to our first principle or to our seventh.   They are certainly the most often quoted in sermons and in conversations when you are trying to explain what Unitarian Universalism is all about.

Affirming and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person is important. So is respecting the interdependent web of all existence.

The first principle uplifts the rights of the individual and the seventh reminds us that we are part of something much larger. (Holding up hands) Individual – community.  We struggle with the tension between those two principles.

How do we handle a truly disruptive individual, respect their inherent worth, and still manage to move ahead as a community?  What if there is a decision to make and almost everyone is saying yes and a few people are loudly shouting “no”?

Do we try to please everyone or do we just keep fighting about whatever it is?  Do we sometimes just say, “thank you for your opinion, but we are going ahead, because it is the right thing to do for our community and for the world?”

Some say there is an inherent conflict between our first and seventh principles.

But isn’t part of respecting someone’s worth and dignity letting them know when they are doing something that diminishes of damages another person or group of people?  We offer real respect by engaging them

Similarly, the seventh principle respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part is about a lot more than respecting the environment.

It says we are all connected.  Every individual with all of their inherent worth and dignity is connected to every other individual.  So what do we do if there is a conflict between an individual and the needs of the wider community?

The difficulty we sometimes have is, I believe, that we too often forget that we have seven principles, not just two.  The first and seventh principles are like bookends.  Sometimes we need to pay attention to what is in the middle.

What’s in the middle?  What is our 4th principle?  It is OK to look it up.

Bingo. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning is the correct answer.

The other 4 principles lead us there, moving from the outside in.

The second principle, justice, equity and compassion in human relations points to the sixth, the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;

The second principle is about how we promise to treat individuals, while the sixth is what that means on a larger scale.

The third and fifth principles, acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations and the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large; Those tell us what to do as we engage in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Free (one hand) Responsible (other hand)

Individual – Community

It is the essence of dramatic tension. Everyone who wants to live ethically, in right relationship to other people and to the world, to examine their life and their faith, struggles with contradictions.  How do we search for truth and meaning?  How do we discover what we are called to do with our lives? It is a call, a spiritual call. Being called is not something just for professional ministers.  And what is our usual answer? Who me?  Not me, God.

Moses said, “Choose my brother instead.  He’d be much better at this than me.”

The Buddha sat beneath a tree; Jesus went into the wilderness. They were seeking truth and meaning, wondering what their lives were really about.

Don’t we all do that?  We wonder why we are here, if our life has any purpose, any meaning beyond whatever societal success we might attain or not.  What is the point?  Does it matter what we do and how we live?

To find the answers to those questions, we have to go deep, very deep, inside of ourselves.  We have to look in the mirror and see our whole selves, our failings as well as our gifts. Who am I? Why am I here? What am I called to do?

Who are you?  Why are you here?

What are you called to do with your one precious life?

It can be scary.

The choir just sang the song “Hush”. It is in our teal hymnal. “Hush, hush, somebody’s calling my name, oh my lord, oh my lord, what shall I do?”

What shall we do when we know our name is being called? What shall we do when we know that it is time, past time, for us to stand for freedom and for justice? What shall we do when we are afraid?

Fear has so many dimensions: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of ridicule, fear of power, fear of the unknown.

No, not me; choose someone else.

But while we are sitting beneath the tree, while we are wandering in the desert, while we are drawing whatever wisdom we can from each and every one of our six sources, we also need to be turning ourselves inside out, finding a path based on principles that we believe in.

The Buddha did not stay beneath the tree, he was called by the suffering he saw around him to go back into the world.  Moses came down from the mountain to lead his people to the Promised Land.  Jesus came back from the desert and began casting out demons and healing the sick. They answered their calls.

It doesn’t really matter who we think is calling.

 

It could be God and it could be something that is part of the human spirit. Personally, I believe that something beyond human understanding calls us to be the best people we can possibly be. It stirs our souls, comforts us in the dark nights, and keeps us going when we have lost almost all of our hope.

I tend to call it God, the Holy Spirit, or the divine presence. Name it what you will, but to live life fully, we all must tap into that source, that Spirit of Life that lets us know that our lives do have meaning; there is a reason we are here.

Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

There is a place, deep within each of us, that knows what will make us come alive.

Our justice work is most effective when it comes from that place, the place of passion as well as conviction.

If our heads, our hearts, and our spirits are all engaged then our actions and our witness has a power beyond measure.

It is so easy to look away, to turn from what we know is calling us, it is so easy to say, “Not me, someone else can do it better.”  “I am too busy.” It is easy to avoid looking inside to find what you know is yours to do.  We miss the chance to come fully alive.

Of course, it is also possible to get lost in endless contemplation, to ignore the world, and just seek our own personal enlightenment.

But if we listen to whatever is calling our name, then we hear the cries of the suffering and we feel the pain of the oppressed. The world becomes part of us, we know that we are not merely separate individuals, isolated in our own pain, our own worries, but we are contained in an intricate web of life, a web that is held together by compassion and by caring.

It isn’t a linear process, this spiritual seeking. A circle is created, energy is renewed, and the call is heard and answered.  The world is changed and we are changed, and the world is changed some more.

We are all called to be accountable to the Spirit that lives within us and to live in a way that reflects that Spirit and brings more love and justice into the world. Paying attention to and trying to live by our seven principles can help us do that.  The most important one is the one inside of all the others, that free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

We are all accountable to the Spirit of Life.  We nurture and grow our own souls, and so we will heal each other and the world. We can walk a principled path together.

 

song: “It’s a blessing you were born and it matters what you do.  What you Know about God is a part of the truth.  Let the beauty you love be what you do and you don’t have to do it alone.”

Link to song (here)