Hello to my few faithful readers. I am honestly sorry that I have not been publishing much here lately, but I have honestly been doing a lot of writing. I am taking 2 on-line classes and I just helped to launch a new website for the I Am UU Project for Unitarian Universalist evangelism and outreach. I’ve been reading, writing, and designing images for the I Am UU Facebook page, which has really taken off in the last 6 months. I’ve got a few other things up in the air, and while I am very excited about them, I am not ready to talk openly about them all just yet.
I was inspired to write this week because Tandi Rogers of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Office of Growth Strategies changed her profile picture, a few days ago now, in celebration of the 30 Days of Love, an annual event from the good folks at the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. Now, we are on day 15, and this was posted by the folks at the SotSoL Facebook page for day 6. It is god to know that I am not the only person who is falling behind on the 30 Days of Love. I did see it before, but I was busy with my own projects, and I didn’t let myself think much about it, I guess, because when I saw it this morning, I knew I had to answer it.
I had to answer it because over the last few years, my faith has transformed me, my life, and the lives of the people around me.
Back in 2008, my life fell apart. I won’t go into the real details, but I was homeless, unemployed, recently divorced after a long separation, and had come to the realization that the friendships of my early 20s were not supporting me in my early 30s. I moved away from those friends and my now exwife and our children, not so very far, but 40 miles is a long way to go when you don’t have a car. I moved in with my ailing mother to take over for my younger sister, who was not managing Mom’s finances and affairs well. I showed up at their door with more food than they had in the house at the time.
I knew I needed a lot of change. I needed a new social life. I needed some direction. I needed change. I had been involved with a Unitarian Universalist church back in college, and while I had stopped attending, I still remembered the joy I had felt in learning about their Principles and mission. I reached out to the UU church in town, and everything changed.
I was contacted quickly by a member who was part of the web-team. While I never did get onto the web-team, her friendship was vital to getting my life back and getting involved with the rest of the church.
I volunteered for everything that I could get a ride to. I let my participation in church make up for the lack of direction in the rest of my life. I knew I was helping make good things happen in my community, both the congregation, and the greater community that we serve. People were being fed, houses built, and we marched for equality. I wasn’t feeding, and I wasn’t building, but I was supporting the organization that made sure those things got done. It started me on my way out of a funk I had fallen into.
After about 2 years of being active, I decided that I was going to take my skills in technology and communications that I couldn’t find a market for, and I used them to reach out to other Unitarian Universalists. I started a Twitter account devoted to sharing positive stories of Unitarian Universalists and the work they were doing to promote our Principles in the world. I connected to other UUs on social media, and they helped me expand my understanding of what the Principles really mean in practice. My understanding of my own privilege became more clear, and I was able to be a better ally for those who had different needs because of their culture, language, their physical limitations, and even their gender (or lack there of).
I also came to terms with many of the negative associations I had for the religion of my childhood. I now feel that I have an even better understanding of the wisdom of the Bible, and the teachings of Jesus and his followers. Understanding that the Bible wasn’t a single book, and that it was ok that there were parts written by different people who didn’t have the same message or story to tell. Each story could share something important on its own; they didn’t have to agree.
I learned to give simply because I had something to give. I didn’t have money, so I gave time. People appreciated that, and it made it easier to give. I realized that even when most people didn’t notice that I had done a thing, they appreciated that it had been done, and I could be proud of making things seem so smooth for everyone else.
My faith has transformed me to be a better person. I firmly believe that. It has made me more accepting. It has made me more patient. It has helped me learn to let go of my frustrations, and to see that all of us humans are just trying to get by, trying to cope with our own desire to be vital in a universe where we are so small. I make my vitality by trying to live up to my faith.
Unitarian Universalism is about relationships. At their core, all religions are. They tell us how to react to the universe, to the divine, and (possibly most importantly) to each other. Many outline proper relationships to animals or to plants, both how to raise them and how, when or if we should eat them. Unitarian Universalism isn’t so much different in scope, though we don’t the same level of detail about any of it that some other religions provide. We have ideals, and it is up to each person to live up to them the best they can in their own way. We focus almost exclusively on positive outcomes.
We don’t feel that almost every person is born with some sense of community. We have an inherent sense of self worth and dignity, and we are driven by a need to have that recognized by others. We feel that when we honor that worth and dignity, we give a person the freedom to be who they really are, and we encourage them through positive relationships and encouragement.We try to lead them to understanding, though no one can hand spiritual growth over to another; it must be sought and earned individually.
In much the same way, no one can tell you what your relationships ought to mean to you, or how to create or maintain them. You have to choose the people who support you. You have to build the life that makes you happy. You are responsible for your love, your fear, your anger, and your sense of responsibility. There is no better judge of who and what is important to you, and you have to form personal relationships with each person in your life, and no one else can dictate who they are with, what they are, or how they make you feel.
Your relationship with each person is different than the relationship that person has with anyone else. You parents don’t have the same relationship with you that they have with anyone else. Neither does your significant other or your boss. You are such an essential part of each of your relationships that you make them each personal for the other person, or you choose not to.
The same principle holds true for your relationship with the congregation as a whole, or the grater community. You have the right to share your time and talents in a way that is fulfilling to you. You also have the right to withhold your contributions if you don’t feel that they are appreciated or if you just would rather not do the same thing for the church that you do for a paycheck. It is up to the congregation and the community to value you. They have a responsibility to communicate their needs and to give you positive feedback and respect. You have the responsibility to stand up for yourself when they ask too much. No one else can know your limits as well as you, and you can reasonably expect to have them honored if they are clearly communicated. That give and take is what makes a good community work in the long run.
Your relationship with the divine is also personal, and no one can feel the pull on your heart and mind. You know what name feels right on your tongue and what rituals calm or excite you. We can help you explore the possibilities, but you have to know God on your own terms. Just as your relationship with each member of your family and community reflects your contribution to that relationship, the divine relationship is tailored to your gifts and your perspective. No one can tell you how to feel about the rest of creation or our mutual source.
The Unitarian Universalist congregation has pledged to encourage your spiritual growth, and to aid you in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning in your life and in the world. We want to be good for you. You deserve to have your worth and dignity acknowledged and nurtured. We are a better community when you are a healthy part of our community, and that can only happen if there is honest communication about your needs as well as what is needed of you.
There are oh, so many, who say that the 7 Principles of Unitarian Universalism are only a covenant between congregations, and need not mean anything to individuals. I strongly disagree; we need to understand that some of them are clearly promises congregations make to members, and thus that members make to each other. A congregation is, after all, only a group of people who share a covenant with one another. If we do not believe that those Principles have value in our lives, to help us create healthy and enriching relationships, then what purpose do they serve? If they are simply a promise from one non-profit corporation to other corporations, then doesn’t that reduce our churches to mere office buildings?
Unitarian Universalism is a religion, or it is nothing at all. If it is a religion, then it must advise us in our relationships. It must direct us to create relationships that improve our communities. It must inspire us to reach out to one another, in times of trouble and triumph, and support one another in our quest for truth and meaning through encouragement to spiritual growth. Our heaven is a community, here on Earth, where there is justice, equity, compassion, and peace; a beloved community that includes every person and values every living thing.
Filed under: Spirituality, Unitarian | Tagged: community, congregations, covenant, humanism, mystical belief, Principles, relationships, religion, spiritual growth, Strange Religion, theology, unitarian universalism, UU | Leave a comment »
I am posting this as a place holder, to give people a place to make comments on the topics of campus outreach and ministry and how we can better support our young adults emotionally and spiritually.
Please post your thoughts and ideas and any experience you have. Please tell us a bit about yourself and where your opinions and ideas are coming from.
Filed under: communication, Spirituality, Unitarian | Tagged: activism, community, congregations, covenant, humanism, relationships, spiritual growth, unitarian universalism, Young Adult | 5 Comments »
Let me get something off my chest: If you survive a tornado, hurricane, or earth quake that killed children and leveled entire neighborhoods, this is not the time to thank God. God didn’t put out a personal hand to save you, because that implies that the same hand intentionally left others to suffer. God does not direct tornadoes. God does not shake the Earth. God has bigger problems. The Universe is huge, and God doesn’t have time to direct the flapping of every butterfly to ensure that hurricanes only destroy evil people. God cannot be said to have saved you without also having to condemn the dead. That is clearly beyond our ability to understand the intentions of the divine.
You can thank God for the life you have. You can thank God for seeing to it that we have a divine spark of humanity. The spirit of God is at work in the first responders and the Red Cross. God gave us the ability and the compassion to take care of each other. We are created as curious, caring, cooperative creatures (sorry for the alliteration, it came too easily to ignore). That is what we should be thankful for. You never felt thankful for your parents failure to keep you from getting ill, but for their care that helped you get well. Bad things happen because the universe is complex, and we are such a small part of it. The winds are not out to get us, nor the rains or the ground, but it is virtually impossible to build something to withstand all of them. The Earth has its own stresses, far below us, that are released as tremors. The weather is dictated by the sun, the spin of the planet, and every tiny movement of the air. It is beyond our prediction, and it is unconcerned with our desires.
God does not single us out for birth, for death, or for salvation. The tools have been put in place, and it is up to us to use those tools in the best possible way. We’ve been given the intellect to overcome the worst climates and even the vacuum of space. God has intrusted us to save ourselves. It is up to us to put our creativity and compassion to use, putting storm shelters in schools and neighborhoods and building safer homes and offices. God made sure that the universe would provide, but, from a human point of view, bad things happen because we are not the most important thing in the universe, and there are forces at work that we cannot predict or outsmart.
It isn’t fair to blame our individual suffering on God, and thus, it isn’t really necessary to credit God with having a well designed and built house, or a safe place to shelter, or for any of the other human factors that saved you, just like God doesn’t force either team to loose the Super Bowl every year, just so that the other can win.
While far from unanimous, the Western world has largely settled on the idea of Monotheism, or at least that is what the majority would currently profess to, if you asked them. Most of the people on Earth, the world’s Christians, Jews, Muslims, and followers of many other religions with fewer believers, are monotheists in dogma and doctrine.
The trick to monotheism is the idea that there is one creator, who oversaw, designed, or even hand-crafted the universe according to a plan. There is much disagreement about the intent, and whether this being remains “hands on” in the operation of the universe is certainly up for debate. The essence, though, is in the creation and the idea of a design or plan for the universe. As we try to understand this force of creation, our main focus and most valuable tool is our ability to understand what was created.
Thus, there are, even within monotheistic religions, many different views of what this creator wanted for creation and why there is a creation at all, and most importantly how we are supposed to react to the creator and the rest of the creation. Each person, even in hearing the same words, even those who internalize the same stories and doctrines, must shape their perception of God around their experience with creation.
For many of us, our understanding of God is, at the most basic level, the idea that God is almighty and powerful. After all, isn’t the creation of the universe enough to indicate the absolute power over the universe? We shape our idea of God based on our idea of power. The things we see as “Powerful” and “Capable” become the things we ascribe to God.
This is why many depictions of God give the creator a masculine body, and generally one that is elderly, with white hair and a beard, but also physically fit and imposing. God, of course, would have none of these traits, inherently. If the creator of the Universe is still in existence, then our concept of age clearly does not apply, and even if, as Genesis tells us, man and woman are both created in the image of God, then God must not conform to our gender roles or sexual characteristics.
What we are left with, then, in my opinion, is an image of God that mimics our image of power. The people in power in the Middle East and in Europe were mainly older men, and that became intertwined with the idea of power and authority. Being the ultimate in both power and authority, God, in those cultures, took that form in their collective consciousness. Whether this was God’s intent, or just the only way that certain people or groups could relate to the idea of The Almighty, we may never know.
Many ancient peoples and pantheons held that the creation of the universe was the act of a primordial mother, or a primordial “couple” forming Earth and Sky. The primary Greek creation myth was one of the Feminine Primordial Gaia, who created her own mate and birthed the Titans, who gave birth to the Gods, who created the world as it was known to the Ancient Greek people, who understood on some level that the planet was much older than their civilization, and incorporated that into their mythology. Ultimately, though, the world of the Greeks was ruled by men and by Gods who took the power for themselves, making it theirs by right of strength. In a way, this mirrors the progression of theology through most of the world: masculine figures taking prominence, and eventually displacing any divine feminine figures more or less completely.
Clearly, then, our image of the divine is shaped by our perception of potency and the essence of what makes something powerful. Many people see power in strength. Many see it in some form of magic or in the promise of technology. In reflection, some deities are strong, some wise, and some clever, but the monotheistic God is usually all three. Gods are born of ideas, and powerful ideas become powerful deities. Likewise, the attributes that you ascribe to God say a lot about what you value in leadership, in relationships, and in your life.
It is important, then, to consider what you really think about God, and not just what you have been taught, or what you say in front of others. Is your true concept of the divine as loving as you say? If so, then how is that love manifested in the world? How do you emulate it? Is your vision of God vengeful? Does that make you vengeful, too? Does that improve your relationships? Is your God forgiving? Does that help you to forgive? Has that been healthy for you?
Another common and important factor in monotheism is that God is “good” and that the intent of creation was to give rise to life, and ultimately to intelligence, and that intelligent life was meant to have a relationship with God. We are meant to be “good”, helping to bring about what God wants in the Universe. Being like God is being good.
By really examining your view of God, and thus your perception of what makes one “good”, you can shape your whole being. If you know that God is vengeful, and live in fear, then you are likely to resent those who see God as loving, and live at peace with their place in the world. If you know God in absolute terms, then you will be distrustful of science, revelation, and even your own senses. If you know there to be no God at all, then it is possible to fall into arrogance and conceit, looking only at the world around you for your sense of purpose and power. Your image of God both often both dictates and mirrors your best and worst traits.
Robert Ingersoll once said that “There can be but little liberty on earth while men worship a tyrant in heaven.” This is the essence of what I am trying to say: As long as we value anger, discrimination, and vengeance as divine traits, it will be impossible to remove them as cultural institutions. We must examine our concept of God, and decide, objectively, if it matches our understanding of what is good in the world. If you wouldn’t respect your God as a neighbor, then you have to understand that your image is too small and too personal. We need a universal God, who is good without resorting to divine dispensation. We need a God willing to give us our curiosity and senses in order to use them, rather than one seen to tempt us with knowledge we are forbidden to seek. We need a God who loves all humanity, rather than picking and choosing based on situation of birth. We need to see God for what God must be, rather than for what our tribal ancestors had hoped was a champion for their way of life.’
It is said that most people have some instinct for good, and that this “conscience” is an echo of the voice of God in our lives. Whatever the origin, we know what good is. Our understanding of the Universe, both of what is true and of what feels right, must be applied to our understanding of the creator. What is wrong to do to one another in any other cause is also wrong to do in the name of God, or the name of God isn’t worthy of our worship and reverence.
“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”
― John Piper
This is how I sometimes feel about the Unitarian Universalist involvement in Pride Parades, protests, and “volunteer opportunities”.
I went to Pride Day once before I joined my Congregation. It was fun, though I spent a good portion of the parade tying protesters up in discussion, telling them things they needed to know about their Bible. I enjoyed the festival after and got a lot of really great information at the booths. More over, I was there as an ally, and a person who wanted to be around other people who were, at least for the day, unashamed of who they really were and what their families look like. I wasn’t part of a group or movement; I was just a friend who wanted to celebrate their lives with them.
I’ve been to Pride Day 3 times since joining Horizon, and each time I was a participant in the parade, and I spent at least a little time in our booth, telling people about who we are and what we believe, and mostly handing out free water, because it is really hot in Texas in September. It is fun, and it does lead to some good conversation, but I’m not gay. No one in my immediate family is gay, or even bisexual, as far as they are telling. I’m not active in an outreach program. I’m not an official member of any kind of political organization. I just go to a church; a welcoming, Universalist, liberal church, but that earns me a place in the parade. We march, as a group. Why?
Are we really there for support? Are we there to tell the LGBT community that they aren’t going to hell? If they were worried about it, our simple presence in the parade isn’t likely to assure them. Are we there because LGBT church members want to show off their community? If so, why aren’t they our organizers, and why are they outnumbered? Are we just there as part of our ongoing membership drive? It certainly seems like this is at least part of the reason we are handing out fans with the 7 Principles printed on them.
Why do we celebrate civil disobedience? Is it solely because we want to see people moved to do brave things, or is it because it means a headline now and then? Headlines aren’t bad things, mind you, but they aren’t missional. They are sound-bites; the snack cake of wisdom: sweet, but void of nutrition. They don’t feed the intellect or the soul.
We do a lot of work, which is right for us. We are a humanist faith, as much as we are any other type, believing in the necessity of action. One of the 5 Smooth Stones, which form the bedrock of our faith, is the need to manifest goodness, creating it in the world around us. James Luther Adams tells us that a liberal faith, sincerely held, must “express itself in societal forms”, creating institutions to enshrine liberty, education, and justice in our nation. Still, he says of “individual virtue” that it “is a prerequisite for societal virtues.” I will go a step further, restating the theme of my last post, and say that sincere individual virtue obligates us to manifest social virtues. In short, if the church were helping us to be spiritually healthy, then the protests and the celebrations would come as naturally to us as showing up on Sunday or calling a friend on her birthday. It would be an obligation of the spirit and of our sense of community, rather than a commandment from the pulpit or the newsletter.
At what point does our mission to gather after service and carpool to the Parade simply mirror the pilgrimage of the fundamentalist group, where members may not have strong feeling about the LGBT community, but feel compelled to protest the calls for equality as a sign of their faith?
We don’t need publicized missions. We don’t need uniforms. We don’t need national campaigns designed around visibility. We need people, moved by faith, doing good in every part of their lives. If we can inspire that, then we will already have changed the world.
Filed under: Unitarian | Tagged: activism, belief, civics, community, equality, homosexuality, humanism, personal, Politics, Principles, religion, unitarian universalist association, universalism, UU | Leave a comment »