“The Meaning of Unitarian Universalism” is the rather ambitious (but appropriate, on a couple of levels) title of yesterday’s sermon by DUUF Minister Emeritus Rev. Don Fielding. And while I don’t intend to review or critique Don’s sermon, he did have a couple good ideas that I want to expand on.
Don is a Religious Naturalist. I still remember the forceful conclusion to his retirement sermon in 2003: “there is only the natural world, and it is enough.” Yet while he’s firm in his beliefs, he has a certain humility about them (or maybe he’s just really polite) – he and I disagree agreeably. It’s a good example of what UU theological diversity should be. Not both of us combining our beliefs into some mishmash, or avoiding discussing them, but an intelligent, friendly give and take.
Don said that the Unitarians and Universalists made a mistake when they abandoned theology after the 1961 merger. While social justice is important, it’s not enough to build a religion around. I totally agree. The people I see coming into our church are looking for something. They may not know exactly what it is (most don’t), but it’s more than just a safe place for folks who don’t fit in elsewhere and the occasional food drive or protest march.
Don also said that people have a tremendous need for meaning. And if we can’t find meaning “out there” (because, as a Religious Naturalist, there’s nothing out there), then we have to find it “in here.” As he was talking about this, I couldn’t help but think of one of the last few lines of the Charge of the Goddess:“And you who seek to know Me, know that your seeking and yearning will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery: for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.”
This sermon was a preview of an ordination sermon Don has been asked to give next month. In keeping with that theme, Don suggested that our ministers must become “meaning coaches” – helping everyday people to find and make meaning in their lives in ways that are both helpful and honest.
I find that very encouraging. All of us need to define our religion by what we do believe, not by what we don’t. And finding and creating meaning will inevitably take us down paths that have been walked by other followers of other religions. If we strip away doctrines and literalized myths, what’s left should be a true “universalist” practice.
As befits an ordination sermon, this points us towards a beginning, not a completion. But I think it’s a very good place for UUs to start.