Rev. Thom Belote
Minister of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian
Universalist Church in Lenexa, KS
Rev. Thom Belote preached recently about Unitarian Universalist identity. He was inspired by an essay by Sharon Hwang Colligan about people raised as UU's: Children of a Different Tribe.
Colligan writes that when the children of a different tribe reminisce about their cultural experience of having grown up UU, they talk about being in an environment marked by realness, honesty, friendship, and truth. I might unpack those just a bit.
Realness is the same thing as authenticity. It is the ability to be open with others without armor or defenses. It is the result of having a safe environment, a community that sings the “How can anyone ever tell you, you are anything less than beautiful?” song to each other.
Honesty is an inner commitment to follow the dictates of conscience. It is made possible only when acceptance is assured.
Friendship is a warm embrace of one another. It is the embodiment of welcoming and acceptance.
Truth is a method of exploration. It sees unquestioning faith as an oxymoron. It holds that revelation is not sealed and that our understanding is always evolving.
I grew up Unitarian and then Unitarian Universalist (the border moved; I didn't) and so that makes me also a child of this different tribe, in the geezer division.
Without taking anything away from Colligen and Belote's thoughts about the differences within the UU movement between those raised in the faith and those who come in later, I would expand the scope of this discussion.
It is an unfortunate result of our inward-looking anxious sectarianism that we see all the big questions as being about ourselves and through the lens of barriers to our own inclusivity.
Thanks to our religious education program, Colligen argues (and Belote agrees) that those who grew up in our faith are shaped by a culture of realness, honesty, friendship and truth. This "tribe" rubs up against those in our churches who came in from elsewhere and were formed around different values and stories. It's an uneasy interaction which raises the question of how our congregations can become shaped more by the mostly younger people who grew up UU, rather than by people who are adult converts. An interesting question, for sure.
But step back and look at in a larger context. It describes the interaction between Unitarian Universalism and the wider culture, as well. Our goal is to humanize the culture: to make everything a culture of "realness, honesty, friendship and truth." In other words, this is not just about our internal power dynamics, this is also about our evangelical work.
Sounds ambitious, yes?
Two points: (1) we know how to do it. The fact that we are even having this discussion means that we are already doing it some of the time. (2) we are not doing this alone; there are already many others in this culture working to transform our culture into one one realness, honesty, friendship and truth.