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 along a different dimension.  He asked what was "transient" and what was "permanent".   We are being asked "what is cultural specific about UUism?" and "what is universal?"

[Cautionary note: terms like "permanent" and "universal" are also relative terms.  Nothing is really permanent and universal.]

Do you see where this took me?  At the same time that I was getting from Rene Girard this vision of a Holy Spirit of justice that was remaking the world, independent of Christianity, and I was getting from Cupitt and Geering an understanding of secularism as the fulfillment of the western religious tradition, and I was imagining the self-emptying of Christianity through Kenosis, right in the UU movement, people were talking about a UUism that had transcended its particular cultural manifestation. Unitarian Universalism self-emptied of its cultural power.

There was unknown X Spirituality out there: that which was left after all the transcendence and self-emptying and internalization.  I could see that Unitarian Universalism had its roots in the process of defining what is left, but it, too, was now ripe for self-emptying.

All this time, I was also one of the ministers of an old New England church, one of the cathedrals of Unitarianism.  I had to preach regularly, and think about programming and worship, and the development of an institution and the nurturing of a real community.

So, a search for the undefined X Spirituality could not be abstract, a process of theological essentialism.  It was not enough to define the X Spirituality.  It had to be a sermon, not a philosophical essay. The question was how to promote it, and how to inspire it?

So,  I defined the question in the terms of a parish minister: what happens to people when they join a UU church?  How are they changed?  What are they looking for, and what do they need?  Where are we taking people?  Are we taking people toward this remarkable power? Or just making them happy where they are?


  1. How can you inspire others? I guess there is something to leadership here.

    Can you show by doing? Will they see it? Is it even visible?

  2. Hey Tom, really interesting stuff. This post to me is the real rub as it gets into the relationship between faith and culture. This is where you'll get to explore whether UUism is a religious identity in which it can engage, include, and transform a diversity of culture groups. Or have we so completely capitulated to a narrow slice of culture that UUism is really a cultural identity, in which case the very idea of cross cultural ministry and mission is a contradiction.
    While he is a modernist, Tillich's method of correlation is helpful in identifying a proper relationship in contending for the faith while contextualizing for the culture without capitulating to it. Culture asks the question while faith gives the answers.
    Also I would ask the question of whether we (in America) are really a secular culture at this point or has that demographic gone the way of modernism?
    Anyway, good stuff, looking forward to where you take this.


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