No Center

All that was said in the comments of the last post (and thanks to all who participated in the discussion) seems to confirm my suspicion that there is no religious center in Unitarian Universalism. And this small sample size seems to be quite OK with that.

I shouldn’t be surprised. When I look around at other denominations, I don’t see much in the way of religious centers there either.

The Episcopal Church is currently in the middle of a nasty schism precipitated by the consecration of an openly gay bishop. If that’s important enough to split over, is the center of Episcopalianism a commitment to heterosexuality? That’s a silly thought. Is it a commitment to Biblical inerrancy? I’m no expert on Anglicanism, but I don’t think that’s been a key part of their doctrine in many decades, if ever.

In fact, about the only group I can confidently say has a religious center is the Southern Baptist Convention. Historically, Baptists were a pretty non-conformist group, emphasizing the priesthood of the believer and the autonomy of the local church. In the 1980s, a group of ultraconservatives decided that “Baptist” needed to be defined more narrowly and began the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. Today, if you want to be a Southern Baptist, you have virtually no leeway in what are acceptable beliefs and practices. They have a religious center, but at what cost?

If we don’t have a religious center, is it possible to have a distinctively UU spiritual practice?

I still come back to the “seekers” who walk through our doors every Sunday. When they ask about spiritual practices, what do we have to offer them? We can point them toward CUUPS or the Zen Group, but if Paganism or Buddhism isn’t their thing, we have nothing – and we have nothing that is distinctively UU.

Whether we have a religious center or not, I think it is possible to develop a unique spiritual practice, something that draws on our Unitarian and Universalist heritage, that borrows from the world’s religions, and that (like Buddhism) could be practiced from a theistic or non-theistic standpoint.

I just don’t think I’m the person to do it. Not only do I not have enough historical and religious knowledge, I already have a practice.

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About John Beckett

I’m a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I’m an ordained priest in the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. I’m the Coordinating Officer of the Denton, Texas Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. This year I’m also serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National. I’m a member of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

I write as a spiritual practice. It helps me organize my thoughts and work through ideas and concepts. It helps me evaluate my beliefs and practices against my core values and against what I know (or at least, what I think I know) to be true. It helps me interpret my experiences (religious and otherwise) in ways that are both meaningful and honest.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17426789386840488470 Paul Oakley

    We're just an emerging congregation. Not large enough to have any of the religious subgroups of Buddhists or Christians or whatnot. We are, of necessity, a single group.

    The only options, at this point, are which activities or meetings one participates in outside the Sunday morning service: Open Minds Discussion (socio-political content); Welcoming Congregation Workshop; Drumming Circle; Meditation Group.

    Our congregation takes the approach that you're responsible for your own orgasm. So when you talk specifically UU spiritual practice are you talking some Sunday service element? Because it's only Sunday services that we have together.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00875369837359076688 JohnFranc

    By spiritual practice I mean something you do on a regular, daily basis – sometimes in groups, but mainly on your own. In the Buddhist tradition, that's meditation. In the Baptist church I grew up in, it was prayer and Bible reading.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17426789386840488470 Paul Oakley

    I was afraid that was what you meant… I don't see how it would be possible to build a UU spiritual practice that most or all would do on their own time to varying degrees.

    After all, part of the brand we've sold is: you pray, I meditate, she chants, he does yoga, they practice lectio divina, she and I do sacred dance, you and he venerate icons, he and she practice aikido, you and I do puja, but we don't (all) have to do spiritual practice alike to love alike.

    I see slightly greater possibility in developing specific UU group spiritual practice that might become part of Sunday services – though I have no ideas as to what it might be.

  • Anonymous
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15910505029382522110 ogre

    Last summer, Rob Hardies taught a class on UU Spiritual Practices for Meadville Lombard.

    They're there. They've just become unfamiliar enough that it's a surprise to find out that they exist, with deep roots.

    Slowly, I'm trying to start making them habit (as well as I manage to make good habits… habitual). And I brought that back to my home congregation, and taught them–about 1 in 8 members signed up for it (and more couldn't make the schedule work…). Some have taken on practicing… and are beginning to meet as an ongoing group to practice together and support and teach….

    I'll just leave on the comment that the center that can be spoken of is probably not the true center. ;-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06917275516051074093 Batbogey

    I just can't say how much this whole issue has tied me up spiritually.

    On one hand, I want someone to tell me what the center of my religion is. I want UUs to be united by something that's less slippery than UU Buddhism, paganism, Christianity, Humanism, atheism and so on — you know?

    But this has led me to some deep reflection about the nature and reason for my tangled, twisted heart. Maybe, just maybe, I'm longing for the certainty of my days as a trinitarian Christian, where Jesus was the answer, and the center.

    Maybe, just maybe, I want things to be certain of something in my life right now. Maybe I need that certainty. I can safely say that I've never done the sort of spiritual seeking as I'm doing now as a UU. I know I'm adverse to the dry bones of the humanism I've encountered where I live. It seems so dull. I'm not getting any energy from the religious humanism that dominates here, no calling to go out and feed the hungry.

    Maybe I need the magic of Christianity more than the Jesus of Christianity. I don't know. This elusive center irritates me. I want a prescription even though I know that wouldn't satisfy me.

    I would love to take a class on UU spiritual pracitce, though. I'd do that in a second.

    This rootless feeling needles me!

  • Anonymous

    According to PolityWonk in a post titled "The Cost of Mis-Understanding What Non-Credal Religion Meant to Our Forebears":

    In the current moment, when Unitarian systematic theology has virtually disappeared in an undeserved disapproval — we have reduced Unitarian Universalism to that old Roman Catholic spiritual practice of showing up for worship once a week. Thus, too many UUs think they are joining a new religion whenever they appropriate an interfaith spiritual practice which deepens their faith beyond that Sunday fellowship. To join a religion, however, means to accept its theology as well as its practice.


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