Short Takes on Congregations and Cultural Transformation

There are people out there right now at work at transforming our culture. They are working for and living toward a culture of where liberal values (like openness, and solidarity, and self-determination and generosity) are normative.

The challenge for Unitarian Universalism is how we, as a whole body, make a connection with those emerging forces of cultural transformation?  How do we connect with the young people of color, like the Dream Defenders? How do we connect to movements of low wage workers in the fast food industry? How do we speak to the educated young people in the families in our own congregations who are burdened with debt and confronted by closing doors? How do we connect to young artists and musicians?

We don't need to start, run, or control a movement for cultural transformation; multiple movements are gathering strength. We just want to be a part of it, because it has been our goal and dream for most of our lives.

The plain truth is that it is not a choice between growing healthy congregations OR participating in broader movements for cultural transformation. Either we do both, or we do neither.

If we make that connection, then our congregations will become nodes in that much larger network. Our congregations will do what congregations do: worship together, create community, love and care for each other, pass faith along, tend to the sick and bury the dead. But who we do the age-old work of the church WITH will be different.

At some point, Unitarian Universalists made a conscious decision that we would connect to, and participate in the movement of GLBTQ people. To many, it seemed like a diversion from the true work of the church. I heard people refer to it as 'the cause du jour'. However, it did change us by bringing us into contact with lots of people who never would have come near us, had we not made a public commitment first.

But this is where we have to first break with our "Stuck in the Eighties" mentality, which says that social movements are always the hobbies of marginal, overly-earnest wackos who should be ignored.


  1. Steve Cook10:22 PM

    Best take, short or otherwise, I've seen so far on the erupting "transformation" front.

  2. The idea of a publically proclaimed theology that learns and becomes deeper from and through engagement with the "othered" the ones who have been last but need to be priority has Biblical roots.

    The contrast, attending to a graded children's, youth and adult education center that enables a series of private spiritualities with come intellectual stimulation as the main course is unique to our time and our theory of the Church. If we can't see that this form of Congregation is a fetter on our faith community then we will become a relic.

  3. I foresee another Empowerment Controversy at GA - a nasty Manichean taking of sides - why always "either/or"? -

    Colossal disrespect for congregations is not a good way to raise money. We still have congregational polity and it will not be hard for congregations to leave; either to be freestanding or to join the UCC.

  4. Maybe it's just me, but what this lovely post calls to mind is the wallflower, the homely kid, whose loving older whoever says, "Honey, just go to the dance. You're clean. You're lovely when you fix your hair that way. And there will be other people there without dates. One of them will see you. And if they don't, at least not this time, don't worry about them. Just talk to your friends and enjoy the music."

    Wrong, Mom. You gotta know why you're hot and you gotta wanna take the risk of showing it to the folks who want the hot number for their own. Most folks these days are not looking for solid connection in organized religion. You gotta give 'em a reason. You gotta make 'em want it. You gotta make 'em so incredibly sore that you didn't go home with them that they're gonna hang out in the places you hang out, talk to people you talk to, post Youtube links to a song that someone told them was your favorite.

    In other words, know yourself. Strengthen yourself. Trust yourself. I know that's what people say the yellow tee shirts do, but IMHO, they don't proclaim the essence of what makes us a religion. Because when we call one side "love," we tell everyone on the other side that their heart is inferior, their love isn't the real thing.

    Oh, wait-- haven't I heard that somewhere before? Oh, yeah... it was exactly what they used to say to us.

    So. Not original. Not even accurate -- because love has a nasty way of not settling for one side or the other.

    In the end, loving oneself is still the most radical message out there. It's the "not original sin" message. It's the "you don't need someone with a collar to save you" message. It's the loneliest, most powerful statement in the world:

    "Look at me finding and loving myself. And that's what I want for you: not your copy of my teeshirt, but pride in whatever expresses your best self."

    (sorry to be so testimonial: just watching Michael Sam on television.)


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