Love Beyond Beliefs: Or, My Unitarian Universalism

standing on the side of love
The other day I posted a letter I wrote to a Unitarian Universalist ministerial search committee. In it I pointed out what I consider a terrible problem facing UU churches, particularly smaller ones.

For complex reasons much of it involving a generational shift which I mention in that post, there has been a shifting in the broader theological perspectives of people coming into our congregations. Shifting perspectives are part in parcel with Unitarian Universalism with its deep belief in the human heart and mind and a continuing commitment to reflection. So this shifting should not be a problem for a people bound together by covenants rather than creeds. But, of course, we are human beings, and there has been some conflict in this shifting. Mostly it has been creative and engaged lovingly.

The problem I pointed to was how a small subset of the older, and on occasion not that much older members, have felt free to express their disapproval of the views of many of these newer members in aggressive, insulting, and deeply personal ways. And surprisingly often in public venues. The problem, as I see it, is about behaviors. And I said that. And I was specifically pointing out how destructive it is to tolerate such behaviors.

But, the whole thing is confused by theology. As so much is in church life, I’ve noticed. As a consequence some who glanced at my posting without reading it particularly closely, okay and maybe a few who actually even did read it closely, thought I was denigrating the humanist part of contemporary Unitarian Universalism. I thought I wasn’t put off by that assertion, but then noticed how I kept responding in several venues.

What I want to do here is post a positive statement of my view of the tradition. My Unitarian Universalism. Not everyone’s. But mine. My view is informed by a deep reading into our history, as well as an even deeper living into the tradition as it manifests, both as a member of several congregations for many years, and for twenty-five of those years as a UU parish minister. So I have a lot of skin in the game.

That said here is what I see as our emergent Unitarian Universalism, my Unitarian Universalism:

My Unitarian Universalism is an expansive universalism.

Universalism in the West originally meant all souls are reconciled to God. Or, more crassly, that all dead people go to heaven. But, the meaning of universalism has actually undergone a significant shift over the last hundred years. Today the universalism of Unitarian Universalism, for most among us, means there is a current of truth to be found in human religions. To paraphrase another tradition, it is an assertion that our human condition contains everything necessary to salvation. Our religions all are attempts at addressing it, and all bring useful perspectives for those willing to listen. Our project as Unitarian Universalists is at least in part about identifying those common currents, celebrating them, and, most importantly, living into those aspects we find resonant, for our own sakes and for the sake of the world.

And we bring a distinctive style to this project. We are marked by a broad humanist and rationalist approach to life. Historically this is closely associated with the unitarian part of our inheritance. We are also inheritors of the Western tradition writ large, and Protestant Christianity more specifically. This aspect of our tradition is no where more obvious than in our style of worship and our retention of several historic Christian holidays, although for most of us profoundly re-interpreted.

It is a tradition with many mansions. We have a strong humanist element. A pretty good number of us are non theists. And at the same time we have a growing reclamation of theism in several forms, including a progressive Christianity. Among those who have been welcomed into this tribe are people like me, and my own naturalistic Zen Buddhism. In our shifting approaches we have been looking hard at spiritual disciplines. Some are finding value in our Western traditions, particularly looking at what prayer can mean for us. But, a large number, maybe even a larger number are finding value specifically in Buddhism’s meditation disciplines.

Unitarian Universalism’s core theological principle and great image is the interdependent web. As I see our engaging the interdependent web as deeply important. We are in various ways exploring an intuitive sense of the preciousness in every individual, while noticing no one exists in isolation. Bringing this to consciousness, and seeing how it manifests and does not manifest in our own lives creates a cascade of spiritual and ethical consequences.

Much of our current work arises out of digging into that interdependence as an expression of that ever mysterious word love, and what it might mean to us, and in our times. We are a spiritual tradition, after all. Now absolutely some like to stay in the shallows of love. As with any spiritual tradition there are those who play and those who go for it.

And for those who do go for it, seeking to understand what love is and what it means, is a rich work. It is challenging. It has us looking at our relationships with people we might otherwise consider “other.” And it has pushed us particularly to examine human sexuality and matters of race, especially as Americans, and with the relationships between those of African and European descent. At this moment in time it has also caused many of us to feel a deep need to throw our lot in with the immigrant, the refugee, and all who are marginalized. And it pushes us to explore our relationship with life on this planet.

From the outside this spirituality sometimes looks like we’re more concerned with politics than religion. And, I know for some that’s in fact true. It is a danger for us. And, it is worth it. Because so much flows from our path of reflection and action. Maybe even a saving of this poor, beautiful, broken, terrible, lovely world.

I am so grateful for this tradition, and what it have given to me, and it offers for many to this day. There was an old slogan, “Perhaps you’re a Unitarian and didn’t know it?” So, this is a pointer for you. Perhaps you’re a Unitarian Universalist and didn’t know it.

We are, as you might have gathered from the lead paragraph, a bunch of people. So, we’re kind of messy. We aren’t always nice to each other. Also, if you meet any three UUs, there is little doubt you’ll find five perspectives. And when we’re on, when we are in touch with our primary principle, we are about as good and generous and engaged a crowd as you might ever meet.

Check us out. You may be glad you did…

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