Showing posts from May, 2013

Re-Imagining Unitarian Universalism: A New Name?

Let's just call ourselves: The Friends of Walt.  The Camerados y Cameradas.

Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walk of dreams…. Your true soul and body appear before me…. Who ever you are, now I place my hand upon you that you be my poem, I whisper with my lips close to your ear,  I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you. I will leave all and come and make the hymns of you, None has understood you, but I understand you, None has done justice to you, you have not done justice to yourself. None but has found you imperfect, I only find no imperfection in you None but would subordinate you, I am only he who will never consent to subordinate you. I am he who places over you, no master, owner, better, God, beyond what waits intrinsically in yourself.  I give nothing to any one except I give the like carefully to you.   I sing the songs of glory of none, not God, sooner than I sing the songs of the glory of you.
Whoever you are! Claim your own at any hazard!
Set aside …

Re-Imagining Unitarian Universalism, Worship: Another Case Study.

The Reverend Dr. Victoria Weinstein spoke of the purpose of worship in the service at the end of her candidating week at Swampscott-Greater Lynn, in the Commonwealth.   Go and watch the video.  It's only about 13 minutes long.

Like Kent Saleska's sermon in the last case study, it is artful.  The metaphor of birthing is right on the money for a mother's day sermon, and for a sermon at the start of a ministry, and for the process of being changed irrevocably by the new, for which you are not ready.

Her point, however, was that the purpose of church was to give us a context in which we can practice and develop competencies in compassion, solidarity, courage, intellectual rigor, etc.  And she placed herself squarely in the midst of the shift that is going on in Unitarian Universalism right now.

We are moving from a model of the church that exists to provide a community for the members, a care co-op, a child faith development co-op, a chaplain co-op to changing the people by …

Re-Imagining Unitarian Universalism, Worship, A case study

The Rev. Kent Saleska sent me a copy of a sermon about worship to read. You should read it, too. It is here. The words that caught my attention are near the end of the sermon.
Kent writes:
How can we regularly and intentionally place our values in front of us so that is what
dominates our imaginations so that is what we become?  In worship, we come here as a group to mimic those feelings I know so many of you have had, of canoeing across a pristine lake, of cultivating a garden, of dancing at a rock concert, of listening to Thelonious Monk or Beethoven‟s “Ode to Joy,” of sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon, of being filled with the holy spirit. By nature, our weekly gathering here is contrived, and ultimately this contrivance often fails because it is only an approximation of some other experience. Yet we come back again and again because we know, either consciously or unconsciously, that even though our weekly practice is a metaphor, it is also an honest and sincere weekly at…

Re-Imagining Unitarian Universalism, Part 8: Honoring Human Agency

The issue of human agency divides religious thought.
On the one hand, there are many who hold to a "high doctrine of Providence".  They hold that everything is in God's hands, or fate's or destiny's or whatever they understand Karma to be. From a pop star winning an award, to a football team winning the championship, to good health, to disease, and to tragedy, and even to tornados hitting elementary schools, everything is the often inscrutable will of God.  It's both a comforting and terrifying way to look at the world.  
A "low doctrine of Providence" on the other hand holds that more of life is subject to chance, luck, happenstance and human agency.  Yes, tornados happen, and elementary schools can unluckily be in their path, but human beings have the power to build safer schools, and human beings have the agency to act appropriately in a tornado to save their lives.  Much of what happens is out of our control, but we do have agency to make a safe…


That's $1.73 Trillion with a "T".

That is the amount of profits that American companies have accumulated from their offshore operations and tax havens, that they are unwilling to repatriate to the US, because they don't want to pay the corporate income taxes on it.

This is not a post about tax policy.

This is a post about the wealth of the country, who creates it, who owns it and who decides where it will be invested to create more wealth.

That $1.73T is not sitting in piles in some foreign storage shed.  American corporations are not stupid; they have given that money to banking entities to hold.  According to the accounting, it is still owned by Corporation X, but it is part of the capital holdings of a financial institution, and it is being re-invested in any operation that the financial institution sees as profitable in the short-term.  Financial institutions these days prefer to invest in financial instruments of every sort, more than investing in productive cap…

Worship, some, more

Over on Facebook, Ron Robinson responds to my post of worship with this:

Worship and liberal churches. I will come back to this one; we here are now experimenting with de-centralizing and missionalizing worship, joining with others in a sense of "the church" instead of "a" church or tradition, at least as balance, but this part of the essay will help me think through these issues from a missional serving discipling communal sense. Though i might ask Tom if really taking kenosis seriously means emptying the way worship creates an "us" that's not them? I see him in this post moving in that direction by how you cast your message to whom, but when you still do it as a separate institution does that undercut the kenosis and service to others? Just my thoughts, especially if others are also generating those virtues? Hmm these are good thoughts for our experimenting discerning. — withTom Schade.
Let me go at this the long way around, and indulge my geezer pre…

Re-Imagining Unitarian Universalism, Part 7: Worship

I know that I have been in the weeds for the last four posts -- trying to explain the big ideas of sacred secularism, the Holy Spirit Defender and Kenosis.

Those ideas are not the core of a re-imagined Unitarian Universalism.  They are part of my journey, but not our journey.  Those ideas helped me get out of the box that UU Christianity had taken me.  UU Christianity had defined itself over and against mainstream UUism for so long that it was no longer really in the internal conversation about UUism.  As a UU Christian, I needed to come to a new understanding of Unitarian Universalism, one that was not based in mimetic rivalry.  Girard and Cupitt helped me re-imagine UUism for me as an authentic and creative response to the main trends in Christianity in the 19th and 20th century.  And because it was a creative and authentic response to the religious trends of the past, it has the potential to continue to be an authentic and creative expression of religion in the 21st century.

But a…

Re-Imagining Unitarian Universalism, Part 6: X Spirituality

I think that the UUA's efforts to become an anti-racist, anti-oppressive and multi-cultural movement is crucial to imagining a new Unitarian Universalism.

Unitarian Universalism can exist in multiple and diverse cultural settings.  I knew that there were Unitarians in India as a child.  And we all learned of the Transylvanian Unitarians more recently, after the Ceausescu regime was overthrown in Romania.  But somehow we thought that in the United States, Unitarian Universalism was inherently WASPish, New England-flavored and carrying all the cultural markers of the intellectual middle-classes.

But we were challenged, mostly by UU's of color, to imagine that there could be an African American urban Unitarian Universalism, or Spanish speaking UUism, or a country-western UUism.  There could be a Brooklyn hipst UUism and a punk UUism.  Just because we didn't see these things didn't mean that they were impossible.

It was the same problem that Theodore Parker faced, except …

Re-Imagining Unitarian Universalism, Part 5, Kenosis

Way back when, in the early 2000's, I went to a Jesus Seminar or Westar conference in New York City. It was a power lineup of everyone who had ever written a book re-examining Christianity. Karen Armstrong, Marcus Borg, John Shelby Spong, Robert Funk, Jon Dominic Crossan, Don Cupitt, Elaine Pagels. There wasn't another UU there, among the hundreds in attendance.

I was on a mission trying to find a way of understanding Christianity and Unitarian Universalism that reconnected us to emotional states that we UU's had ceased to feel: being called, being held accountable; being forgiven.

The speakers were stimulating, but the crowd was uninspiring. They were largely older, quite academic, and bewildered. Why did it seem impossible to build a church movement when their ideas about religion were so well-thought out, modern and humane? Why were churches so uninterested in the reality of Jesus? Why were secular people uninterested in a version of Christianity that was shor…

Re-imagining Unitarian Universalism, Part 4: Secularity

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4:  Re-Imagining Unitarian Universalism, Part 4: Thinking about Secularity
I became uncomfortable with the way that UU Christians had dichotomized the situation within the UU movement: a dominant humanist hegemony that placed all its eggs in the basket of "religious community" and a suppressed theistic and Christian past and future that called UUism into a more purposeful religious life.

Rene Girard's vision of the gospel floating free of the religion that tries to contain it rocked this understanding. I started to think about secularism, from biblical perspective. I was inspired by Lloyd Geering's and Don Cupitt's presentation at a Jesus Seminar conference in New York.

We now live in
A Global Economy and
In a Globalized Capitalist Civilization
A Pluralistic Culture
A Secular Society and under a Secular State
with Voluntary Religious Associations
Personal Spirituality

There are counter trends -- each of these are resisted in so…

Re-Imagining UUism: Part 3: Rene Girard

Part 1

Part 2

I don't know why I first read Gil Bailie's Violence Unveiled. It was quite a while ago, perhaps ten years or more.  I don't even remembering reading it for the first time.  I do remember leading a discussion group at the church about it.

I read it after I had identified as a UU Christian.  Bailie introduced me to the thought of Rene Girard, and by Girard I was inspired to a much larger vision of the work of the Holy Spirit.  An expanded view of the Holy Spirit is an important part of how I re-imagine Unitarian Universalism, today.

Let me explain:

Violence Unveiled is an exposition of the thought of Rene Girard.  Rene Girard is a living French literary critic, anthropologist, philosopher and Christian apologist.  He is probably 90 now and teaches at Stanford.  He has influenced a whole school of thinkers in a variety of fields.

How to explain Girardian theory?

There are really two parts to it.  One is a theory about human beings, how they relate to each other, a…

Re-Imagining UUism -- Part 2

Part 1, in which I describe becoming disenchanted with the theory that providing "religious community" was the purpose of Unitarian Universalism.

"Religious Community" did not answer the question, "how does Unitarian Universalism change a person?".  There are those who argue that they don't want to be changed, or that asking the question implies a judgement against who they are right now.  You know, that's OK.  Each of us has those seasons in their life.  But a religion still needs a vision of the transformation it is working in adherents, because there are other seasons in life.

So, what was the alternative to the self-satisfaction of Unitarian Universalism?  For myself, I yearned for the moral grandeur of Christianity.  I did not want to emulate the real and actual Christian church, but I was deeply attracted to an idealized version of it: a living historic community of people, humble and self-aware of their sins and shortcomings, relying on Go…

Re-Imagining Unitarian Universalism: Where I started

You should read the last couple posts on this blog.....

Like everybody of my era, I started thinking about Unitarian Universalism by thinking about the problem of how to define what we believe.  The basic problem of UU identity.  And like most of my generation, I adopted "the covenant, not creed" answer to that problem.  That quote by John Wolf - "I am not sure that I believe in God, but I sure believe in the church" was important to me.

That led to the belief that the congregation was the place of definition of Unitarian Universalism.  With that, congregational polity became the "thread that you follow", to use William Stafford's metaphor, through the history.

But not only congregational polity as a principle, but religious community as what we offered to people.  Become a Unitarian Universalist and let your life be transformed by belonging to a religious community, a group of people who gathered together to celebrate their relationships and to pract…

Those Who have Influenced My Present Thought

First of all, I am inspired by the Deuteronomist historians.  At a time when the old ways of the ancient Hebrews had come to naught -- their kingdom defeated, the Temple fallen, their religious and political leaders taken off into exile in Babylon, they re-imagined their relationship with G-d.  They re-thought their earthly Kingdom given to them by G-d, and they re-imagined it as a Kingdom in covenant with God, and conditioned on Israel's faithfulness.  But that faithfulness was not just at the level of the state, but at the level of the person, as well.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love theLord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on you…

Re-Imagining Unitarian Universalism

The pieces are coming together in my mind to reimagine Unitarian Universalism.

First of all, we need to really, actually and truly shift from belief to practice as the core of what the spiritual life asks of us.  To make as one's central claim that we have no doctrine is as much a belief-based system, as a catechism teaching doctrine.  It's just a negative doctrine.

Imagine a different core identity.  No longer: "UU's can believe anything". Or: "UU's accept all."  Instead: "UU's act a certain way". "UU's are good people".

So, let's turn our attention to virtue and character.  Let's re-imagine our spiritual work as learning new habits of the heart, learning to practice the virtues of openness, solidarity, self-possession, reverence, gratitude and generosity, honesty and humility in our daily lives.  Let's re-imagine our spiritual work together as being witnesses to each other's efforts, and catching each …

Afraid to lose ourselves

Be the change you want to see.
What we need is a world that operates by the values of liberality: openness, reverence, honesty, humility, gratitude and generosity, self-possession, solidarity. We need a world where people live honestly and lovingly in a mutual atmosphere of respect and solidarity.
We have to find, and inspire and activate the people who are willing now to live into the future -- who are willing to be the change that they want to see.
Those people are everywhere, in every city and town, in every ethnic and cultural group, of every religion, of every economic and social class. They are men and women and both and neither. They are gay and straight and all kinds of queer.
They are already living into a better future for us all, leaving aside the values of the grim and indifferent world that seems to be dominant now, but is dangerous and doomed.
But they need inspiration and support.
Unitarian Universalism is a faith community of mutual inspiration and support.…

Principles, Virtues, Growth and Evangelism

I have been arguing that UU's ought to de-emphasize our "principles" as the basis of our moral and ethical work, and turn instead to promoting a set of virtues that make up liberality, or liberalism, or liberal religion.

I think that we ought to state explicitly that the purpose of our common religious life is to promote reverence, humility, self-possession, openness, gratitude, solidarity, and honesty as personal and public virtues.  I don't want to make them a code, so you may have a slightly different list, or different words, but you get the idea, I hope.

Our worship are public and inclusive rituals that inspire us to recommit to these virtues in our daily lives.  Our congregations are covenanted communities for the purpose of mutual inspiration of ourselves and others to make these virtues the defining signs of our character.

It doesn't much matter why people think that these virtues are important; it's that they do.  And it doesn't matter much how …

Persuading people to Principles or Inspiring them to Virtue

An excerpt from the sermon today -- delivered at the Greater Lansing UU Church.

I think that there are two different ways, probably many more, to approach morality.  I think of one path as being principle based.  The other virtue based. 
A principle based moralist starts from basic principles and then applies to the world and its problems.  
We understand this because, after all, Unitarian Universalism has for the last 20-30 years organized itself around seven principles, which are principles for action -- moral guideposts. 
They make the first "whereas" statement in our moral resolution making process.  
Take our first principle :  we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of each person. 
So we start with that 
"Whereas, every person has inherent worth and dignity,  and  "Whereas dignity for a person includes a decent burial after they died and  Whereas Tamerlan Tsarnaev is a dead person Therefore  Tamerlan Tsarnaev should be accorded a decent burial."
Ifyou are "prin…