3 Observations from Speaking at a Unitarian Universalist Church
I spoke at a Unitarian Universalist Church today. I’ve been there a couple of times before. Here’s how I got acquainted with them:
After I left the ministry and the church, I was a teacher at the university. It was during this time Lisa told me that I was in trouble and needed help. I found a counselor on campus to talk to. We became friends. She’s a Buddhist and is a member of the UU church. She invited us to come with her one Sunday. It was she who invited me to speak there today.
She also informed me that the church was going through a kind of a split. It’s complicated so I won’t get into it here. But as a result they are in trouble. They are hurting, confused and afraid of what the future holds for them.
I made a few observations this morning that I want to share with you.
WE ARE ALL HUMAN:
I’m always a little nervous going into a context where you are going to speakto people who may be on totally different pages.
A couple of weeks ago I spoke in a university’s philosophy class. I was told there were going to be believers there, including Baptist missionaries on furllow, atheists, agnostics, devout Catholics, and others. How do you talk about spirituality in a way that engages all of them without alienating any of them?
Same with today. Unitarian Universalists are a non-creedal movement. They encourage each member to pursue their own spirituality. They are a very diverse group. How was I going to speak about what I’m passionate about.
But in both cases I had them laughing, tearing up, asking questions, and following along with what I was talking about. It made me relax and realize that basically people want to laugh, want to be curious, and want to be heard. Our commonality is simply being human.
CERTAIN BELIEVERS ARE EVANGELISTS:
I say certain with double entendre, meaning “some” as well as “those who are certain”. Because not all believers are like this.
After I spoke sweet, older woman came up to Lisa and I and thanked us for coming. She also expressed, with tears, how she would keep our son Jesse in her prayers. (We told them about Jesse’s illness during the “joys and concerns” time.) She continued saying something like this, “I say ‘prayers’ because I don’t know how else to say it. I don’t even know what I’m praying or who I’m praying to if anyone at all. I just want you to know that… well… I’m… you know…” Lisa and I knew exactly what she meant and warmly thanked her.
I found this very interesting because her husband was there, a very nice man, who was obviously a believer. I say obviously because he let everyone know it as often as he could. He made it clear he believed in God and in Jesus. He kept saying, “You better hope you’re right and I’m wrong, because the consequences will be severe if you aren’t!” in a kind of ribbing way. I just laughed because I’d heard it all before. His wife would roll her eyes. The others in the room would just chuckle or ignore what he was saying. He was obviously out of sync with the values of the UU church, but they somehow had patience for him.
Often uncertainty stimulates a humble silence and respect, whereas certainty often stimulates the opposite.
NO COMMUNITY IS IMMUNE:
Once in a while someone will comment on my cartoons or posts by saying that this kind of abuse, this kind of idiocy, or this kind of silliness, this kind of error, or this kind of whatever, only takes place in more conservative churches, or evangelical ones, or protestant ones, or charismatic ones, or Catholic ones, etcetera. I try to help them realize that it doesn’t matter what kind of community it is, none of them are immune to abuse or idiocy or silliness or error.
I believe the gravitational pull of all organizations or communities is towards the dehumanization of people. If we are not diligent at every moment, manipulation, coercion and even abuse will slip into our relationships. We have to be constantly careful. Because where there are people there will be forces at work to dehumanize them. I’m not being a pessimist, but a realist. In fact, we can be optimistically diligent in resisting these dehumanizing powers, believing that we will indeed overcome!
The same happened at this very liberal and progressive congregation. Mistakes were made, misunderstandings developed, conflicts arose, and divisions occurred. Because there are people there.
This is why I am so diligently involved with TLS. I thoroughly believe that if left unattended, TLS could derail into an unhealthy community. This isn’t to criticize any certain person. It’s not about a person or people, but the collectivity. It has more to do with powers that systems generate. This is what Paul meant when he said that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers. This is something that prophetic people like Walter Brueggemann, Walter Wink, and William Stringfellow have written about. Good people can gather with the greatest of intentions, but as soon as a system develops, systemic evil will constantly try to find a way to slither in and destroy the fellowship and the human spirit.
On my way out, someone said, “Thanks again. We really enjoyed it!”
And I responded, mistake or not, with, “Any time! I did too!”
So, we’ll see.
That’s what I wanted to share with you.
I love you guys, and I love TLS!