Sunday, May 19, 2013

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 other when we fail and fall.

Let's re-imagine the ways that we gather people together.  First, let's explore all the new ways that people come together: networks, and small groups, and on-line groups.  Whereever people gather to explore and embody the virtues of liberality, we respect that spirit, and want to be there, in spirit.

And then, let's re-tell the stories of our congregations: how our history of performing rituals of worship and reverence has helped change people and communities.  Congregations make those rituals possible: the core community, the ritual leader, the sacred space all supported and tended by a group of people democratically working together.  A congregation is a crucial node on a much larger network of  people living the liberal spirit.

We have to re-imagine our congregations, from being "community organizations" of themselves, to "worship leaders" who provide worship experiences to a wider network.  What's a worship experience? A chance to place yourself before God, or to contemplate the ultimate source, a time to re-dedicate yourself to what is the best, a time to see your life from the largest perspective.

The worship service is not the show a congregation puts on in the hopes of enticing people to join their religious organization, so they can give money and serve on committees.

Re-imagine the worship service as a public ritual of self-reflection and re-dedication offered to one and all in the hopes of changing people's lives.

Let's shift from trying to build up our own religious communities to trying to build up the wider community.   We need to move from membership growth to virtue oriented evangelism.

Imagine a public voice, clear and strong and present, that speaks always for holding the Earth and all her peoples with reverence, as due the body and images of God.  Imagine a public voice that counsels openness and curiosity for the "other", a voice that reminds each of us that all our views are partial and incomplete, and that the truth really matters. Imagine an always audible voice that whispers privately to every individual that they have a right to be their true selves, to think what they think, to love who they love, to be who they know themselves to be. Imagine a public voice that insists that we live amidst actual abundance of all we need most.

We could be that voice.  We say those things now inside our walls to each other and to our children.  We need to imagine ourselves turned inside out, telling the same things to the world.

2 comments:

Kenn Hurto said...

I have long thought that our faith as a "way of being" in the world made more sense than our theological quibbles. I like to challenge congregational leaders: "If our faith were outlawed, would there be any evidence to convict you of your convictions?"

Thanks for this, Tom.

Kenn Hurto

Stephen Cook said...

Well said, Tom, and a real challenge to our prevailing orthodoxy. We've come to assume UU is, at bottom, just an intellectual exercise, sort of a sophomore year, dorm room, bull session about religion, during which we all congratulate ourselves for being so wicked smart in rejecting all that the Establishment has tried to foist upon us.