Sunday, May 26, 2013

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 prerogative to answer a question by telling a tale from long, long ago as though it was immediately obvious how it applied.

Back in the 1970's, in that period of when the Left was being defeated in the country as a whole, I observed two general responses emerging among leftists.

One was what I call fusionist.  We Leftists should do everything we can to fuse with the people in every way that we can.  Get factory jobs; move into working class neighborhoods; cut our hair and dress more conventionally; get involved in political struggles for stop signs in neighborhoods, better neighborhood development, etc.  In other words, fuse with the people as much as possible.  Fusionism is real attractive and romantic.

The other response was vanguardist.  In the 70's, some Leftists thought a time of contraction was a time to get clearer about what we wanted and who we were.  Speak more forthrightly about our vision. Organize ourselves into more effective, even though they might be smaller, organizations. Strengthen our self-identity, even if it meant that the differences between ourselves and the general population seemed greater.  Times would change eventually, and we would be more ready in the future.

To translate those terms into contemporary Unitarian Universalism, Ron Robinson is the ultimate fusionist.  I think that Missionalist tendency in UUism is very fusionist, which is why it is such a powerful critique.  Their critique of our focus on attracting people through worship is very cogent.

I wasn't such a fusionist then, and I am not now.  I am more inclined to think that what Unitarian Universalism needs to do now is make a full-voiced, self-aware, and vigorous defense of liberal theology. I see worship less as bringing together a community than as a public act of speech.  Our goal is to inspire the larger community, as a body and as individuals to the virtues of liberality.  We need to be more clear about who we are, what we are trying to do, and what we are asking people to do.

To Ron's point, yes, that assumes an "us" and "them."  There is an "us" and a "them".  That's just self-differentiation.  I don't think that "kenosis" is dissolving that boundary.  It does mean that we give up speaking as though we had divine authority.  We speak on our own authority, as free and equal people in deep dialogue with others.  By the way, I also question the metaphor of "discipling."  It a romanticization of "commitment" by wrapping it in the mystique of subordination.

Of course, fusionist and vanguardist tendencies are polarities, not opposite.  They seem especially contradictory when a movement is on the ropes in the general culture, feeling defeated and isolated.  They seem more essential when one is pessimistic.

Religious Liberalism has been in that position for most of our adult lives.  The aggression against all forms of liberalism between 1968 and 2008 (and our corresponding low and slow growth) exaggerates the importance of our central unspoken anxiety:  what is wrong with us that we are not growing?

But I think those days are over.  So, I think there is room for a lot of experimentation with forms and content.

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