Because she had made this comment in a response to my earlier post on the National Church Leadership Institute 2015 (NCLI15), I felt the need to speak, but my first response was "Just Shoot Me Now. Please."
We wake up in the middle of the story. There are thousands of years of human history that happened before we were born. That history touches and shapes every aspect of our lives and we are not conscious of it, at least at first. It turns out that the life each of us leads is one small part of much larger events and stories.
Theology has always been the telling of human history: who are we, where did we come from and where are we going. What does that story require of us in the present. What is the good news of that story?
For religion to be helpful to the human condition, it must tell the true story, which means that religious leaders must be skilled historians, able to both know what happened and be able to tell what happened. They must also be skilled at deconstructing false narratives, mythologies about the past and present.
Most religious leaders fail at history. They spin sentimental tales, self-serving narratives, and moralistic anecdotes. They interpret ancient texts and create midrashes to extend those texts when they don't say what is needed. But they rely on the conventional wisdom to understand the story of their own people.
So, when I try to explore #uupublictheology, I have to start with history. Not "UUHistory" that sentimental story-telling that places 'us' at the center, but US History and world history. Who are we in that context?
I marvel at the values we hold, and frankly wonder how we came to learn them, given the reality of our particular history. UUism was the essence of an establishment religion and the direction that it is slowly moving into an oppositional stance? What is it that we have learned, and is that the fragment of good news that we have to share?
Public theology is the search for the good news, the real, the true, the unsentimental hard-as-iron good news in the midst of human history. There are so many easy answers, but we can't accept them if they are not really true. There is so much justified despair and pessimism, but while we acknowledge it, we are not its prophets.
If the sense of a social gospel is weak among Unitarian Universalists, if all our prophetic preaching does not seem compelling, then we need to talk. We need to talk some more; we also need to act; but mostly we need to reflect theologically together. We need to talk about the world's people, their past and their future from the largest possible perspective. We need to engage in public theology.