Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How do you explain "Unitarian Universalist spirituality"?

The Membership Committee of the congregation I serve is wrestling with the question of how to explain Unitarian Universalist spirituality to newcomers (and old-timers).  Since I'm unable to attend their retreat this Saturday (since I'll be at our Board's retreat!), I wrote something up for them to consider.  Here's what I said:

I’d start by saying that we are not as unique as we sometimes think and say we are – progressive Christians too, for instance, encourage people to think and explore and search their own lives in coming to understand God.  We are, however, generally more expansive in our encouragement of that search.  Using a video game analogy, ours is more of an “open world” model rather than one that restrictively directs your movement.  I would also note that I do not believe that “spirituality” is about what someone passively “believes” but, instead, how a person actively engages their inner and outer world.

That said, there is a line in the hymn, “We Laugh, We Cry” (#355) which says that we believe, “even to question, truly is an answer.”   An important part of the spiritual grounding of our faith tradition, as I understand it at least, is precisely this encouragement to seek for truth and meaning.  This is not the same as saying, “UUs can believe anything we want.”  That’s way too simplistic.  It is to say, however, that our faith encourages us to challenge ourselves to look into our own lived experience (equally with the insights of religion, science, and the arts) as a source of understanding “the twin realities of being born and having to die” (as the Rev. Forrest Church put it).  This is no small thing.  Ours is, at its best, an active faith that calls on us to examine, to re-examine, and to keep on examining our understanding of the universe and our place in it.  One way to describe the spirituality of Unitarian Universalism is that it calls on us to become comfortable in the discomforting place of not-knowing.

So no, you can’t “believe anything you want.”  In the first place, “belief” is not, for UUs, the core of “spirituality.”  In the second, we are encouraged to actively engage ourselves and the world in a free search for meaning; to then engage with others in open, inquisitive dialog about what they’re discovering in their searching; and to then arrive at our own tentative beliefs.  Unitarian Universalist spirituality truly understand and engaged, ought to lead us to the place so many of our youth model for us during their Coming of Age service – “this is what I believe now, but I know my beliefs will change over time.”

One other aspect of our faith tradition’s spiritual core – it is not enough to engage in this search for truth and meaning.  We then must strive to apply our discoveries to the way we live our lives in the world.

One final, general, observation – this is not, in my experience, the way a lot of UUs understand and experience our faith.  Far too many, it seems to me, come to UUism having already decided on the “answers to life’s big questions,” and have no real interest in looking any further.  We come, many of us and maybe even the majority of us, to have our understandings affirmed rather than challenged; we want our already established biases reinforced instead of re-examined.  In this we are absolutely no different than the majority of other religious traditions we humans have ever create.

So here’re three "elevator speeches" about the spiritual core of Unitarian Universalism:

·    Unitarian Universalism challenges us to hold our beliefs lightly, always ready to let go as we discover new and deeper truths.

·    Unitarian Universalist spirituality is found in the free and ongoing search for truth and meaning, within the context of a community of open-minded seekers.

·     Unitarian Universalist spirituality is an active search for meaning in life as we experience it, which we then strive to put into practice in life as we live it.

I hope it need not be said, but this is, of course, a provisional answer ...

Pax tecum,


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arthurrashap said...

I click immediately on these Minister's Musings when they arrive and find them usually opening a path to the questioning Wik discusses in this Musing. And then, they seem to find a place somewhere over the rainbow - where perhaps only the denizens of OZ get to deal with them.

A while ago, I shared that my desire for my being a member of this UU Church was based on the spiritual aspect of what I heard, experienced, discussed and sometimes had the opportunity to share in some organized activity. And what I have "contributed" in my efforts is that a two word inquiry can start and follow the spiritual path - the two words are: "SO WHAT"

Let's use this site for some So What commentary.

RevWik said...

Go for it, Arthur! A little "so what" is always welcome. (And all you "denizens of OZ" are invited to engage as well ...)

As for me, I see xxx "so whats" in this post:

1) If you are not a UU, and this resonates with you, check out a Unitarian Universalist congregation near you! (Shameless evangelism.) If there isn't one nearby, we also have a "congregation without walls" called the Church of the Larger Fellowship [http://www.questformeaning.org/clfuu/].

2) If you are a Unitarian Universalist, and you've struggled to find a way to describe who/what/how/why we are, and this resonates with you, go forth and tell your friends, family, co-workers, local grocer, and random strangers on the street. Our faith tradition offers something that is quite needed in our world today. The standard answer of "at our church you can believe anything you want!" is both not actually very helpful and inaccurate.

3) The third "so what" I see reminds me of something I once heard a UU preacher say, albeit in a different context. "You say I'm just preaching to the choir," he said. "You're right. I am preaching to the choir, and what I'm preaching is, 'get off your buts and sing!'" As I wrote in the post, far to many Unitarian Universalists do not really accept the challenges and the opportunities of our faith. I think more of us need to do what this description of UU spirituality says we do -- actively engage in an ongoing search for truth and meaning, not allowing ourselves to become complacent and self-congratulatory in our certainty that we've "seen the light." More of us need to ask ourselves what "answers" we have found have for too long gone unquestioned.

So that's what I'd say, Arthur. What would you say?