Sunday, February 12, 2006

Why I love UU

Those who remember my many forum posts and debates may well have gotten the impression that I have problems with UU. Well, it’s way past time to correct that impression. Fact is I do have problems with the UUA- but I love UU. To explain why, I must discuss what a religion is.

A religion is not what is stated in the dictionary: a set of beliefs. That is a creed; indeed, in some dictionaries the first definition of both words is identical... which would render one of them superfluous. A religion is also a way of life, a culture, a set of standards to live up to. Religion is the counselor of first choice, the arbiter between your mind and soul, your ego and id. A religion is what you live by. “The show must go on”- that is a religious statement. There was a beer commercial in which an instrument maker is lavishing attention on the inside of a guitar he’s building. His friend asks why he’s bothering- no one would ever know. The craftsman takes a swig of his beer and answers, “I will know.” That’s a religious statement. If you can’t prove it, but you know in your heart that it’s true, and are willing to change the way you live your life because of that knowledge, it is your religion.

Most religions come as a complete kit. There may be some work involved reading the texts, coming to understand your chosen religion, but it’s all there, in a neat package, ready to use. And in fact if your choice is one of the half dozen main stream religions, you don’t even have to do that much- merely growing up in the Western Hemisphere gives you a functional understanding purely by osmosis. If you need help, a near infinite amount is available instantly; if you can afford to wait, just sit there and help will literally knock on your door. But what happens if you can’t accept the whole set? What happens if you know, with an internal conviction that transcends rational argument, that parts of that kit are missing, or wrong?

Some leave the church. Some stay in their church for the camaraderie, while denying the basic precepts their comrades believe. Others will strike out on their own, trying to figure out what their religion, their creed, their code truly is- that was my path. I spent 20 years conducting my search alone, until I was invited to services at All Souls, Indianapolis. Just being inside a church again reminded me of what I had given up to be true to my internal vision- the fellowship that I had tried to fill my need for with social organizations. I braced myself for the parts of the creed and practices I couldn’t swallow, the ones that would drive me out of yet another church.

And I didn’t find them. I found a church with a covenant right there on the wall in foot-high letters that promised to assist me in my personal search for truth. I found a minister and DRE who lived up to the promise, with fascinating sermons (selling printed copies is a standard fundraiser) and intriguing extracurricular programs. I found printed materials and a long history of reference works as well. Yes, I also found old-line humanists with spittle-flying fulminations against “God-talk”... but I also found other members who would bring things in to church that they thought might interest me. I have since been to enough other congregations to know how lucky I was to find just what I needed at my first visit... but I also know that although many UU congregations would not have suited me, there is no possibility that any other denomination could have. And in the end, that is what I love about UU: whether it be despite or because of the abysmal leadership, it has enough looseness around the edges to allow a bunch of contrarian Hoosiers to create exactly the congregation I needed, the congregation no other denomination would tolerate. That alone is enough for me to love UU.


Bill Baar said...

I like my Church.

I don't care much for the UUA. I

Jess said...

Thanks for writing this. It is hard sometimes to get fired up to write about the good stuff when, I believe, we start to take it for granted and then look for all the things we can fix. Not to say that there aren't things that need fixing! I've linked this post in on my Best of UU page.

I'm curious about your personal theology - I, too, have run in to one too many naysayers of "God-talk." I'm more interested in redefining the way we use the word God than in populating the UU church with theism, though I have yet to see how this can be done with so much negativity associated with "traditional" religious language.

Kim said...

What we've been starting to talk about lately on this subject in my congregation is that those people who are so horrified by "God talk" are apparently wounded by their previous religious experience and need to do some healing -- how can we help them heal enough to be comfortable with those people who like a little "God talk"? We should be able to talk about God or not, without wounding anyone, in an ideal world. (I have a friend who says, "Should is a religious term." I use it here in that sense.)