Sunday, November 06, 2016

To Grow Deeper and to Have a Wider Influence, Part 2

To Grow Deeper and to Have a Wider Influence

To Grow Deeper and to Have a Wider Influence....

Unitarian Universalists must strengthen the covenant between them: to feel more responsible for each other, to expect more from each other, to offer each other more of our hearts and hands, and to be vulnerable to each other. 


To be in covenant, people must see themselves as a people.
To see themselves as a people, they need a story they share.


To have a story, they need storytellers. 






I wrote those words a few weeks ago, and people want more clarity about them: What am I saying, and what am I not saying?

I am saying that Unitarian Universalism is a half-hearted religious movement. 

You can see this half-heartedness from many angles. The leaders and staff of our association see it in the half-hearted support that the UUA gets from congregations. Our congregational leaders and activists see it in the half-hearted engagement of so many of the members of their congregation. Our ministers see it in the low participation in congregational activities, especially those that are aimed at deepening spiritual lives.
It can be sensed in what can seem like a shallow motivation of our social justice work.

We see it whenever people find that the values of the religious community contradict their political loyalties and they think their religious community should change to resolve this conflict. Whole hearted politics; half-hearted religion! 

But the damage done by our half-heartedness is mostly done to ourselves. 

Can we imagine living a whole-hearted Unitarian Universalist life?

A life in which we mutually support and challenge each other to live lives of reverence, honesty, gratitude, openness, humility, solidarity, and self-possession.

Would not our lives be more? Our friendships deeper, our courage braver, our grieving more profound, our happiness more joyous, the earth more solid beneath our feet, water wetter and the stars closer at hand.

We cannot imagine it. 

We cannot imagine it because what we have experienced as a people is that our aspirations to such a life are foolish, and ineffective, and probably irresponsible and unrealistic. We cannot imagine it because people like us have been told for decades that nobody likes people like us. And as a result, we don't particularly like ourselves and each other. 

The story that we tell about ourselves as a people blends together the mockery of those who don't agree with us with the criticisms of those who warn us that we fall short of our intentions into a toxic stream of self-talk that is self-negating. We are seething stew of self-doubt for which we over-compensate with UU boosterism, UU  uniqueness, and UU paraphernalia. 

And so, we are half-hearted. 

And the cure to that half-heartedness is get grounded in our reality as a people on a path and a journey together. We need to get grounded in the dialectical relationship between ourselves as a people and the historical situations we have been in. 

We need to learn our 20th and 21st century history, and we need storytellers who can make that history accessible to all of us, in a way that is realistic, self-critical, inspiring, and empowering.

2 comments:

Michelle Walsh said...

Yes, we have a lot of internalized oppression as a religious tradition that has carried the experience of being oppressed yet also has risen at a certain point in its history here in the U.S. context to being among the power elite. It's a tangle of lived experiences of different groups within "one people," some of whom draw upon our venerable history of resisting oppression while others partake knowingly or not knowingly of the comfort of privilege and power and accomplishment within the history of the religious tradition. Whose story is given priority in the storytelling? Is there one story of our peoplehood? In some ways, are there not multiple storytellers of every religious tradition, including Christianity and Judaism and Islam and Buddhism, etc. - those from the institutional underside of those religious traditions and those from the elite power structures? Must not the storytelling necessarily come from all dimensions and locations, including how those lived experiences shape the interpretation and practices of the religious tradition, such as our own?

Pete M said...

What jumped out at me was the juxtaposition of boosterism and self-doubt. I suspect that reflects the insecurity bred from our sense of being both small in numbers, and not entirely in step with either contemporary religiosity or secularism. I like the idea of looking for guidance our history. I also wonder about how we might try to harness the talents of the many folks with sophisticated knowledge of data/statistics/technology etc. in our congregations (at least in the one I go to) to figure what works in terms of worship, social justice and other aspects of church life.