Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Something clicked...

When I read UUA Trustee Linda Laskowski: Why I Support Morales I had been strongly leaning for one of the candidates for UUA President, but without strong conviction, or even understanding why I felt that way. This endorsement clarified my thoughts and feelings; the race was not about who was the best choice to attain our goals, but about what those goals were- the basic philosophy of religion.

The sentence that made the penny drop was, "I believe we do offer much to a hurting world, and through working with like-minded individuals and alliances can be part of “saving” it — and in the process save ourselves and this faith we love." I know that many UUs agree with this, perhaps a majority... but my reverence for the democratic process doesn't blind me to the fact that the majority can be wrong- they have this exactly backwards.

Saving the world is the province of governments and political movements, and Goddess knows we've had quite a few of those! We've tried clans and kings, direct democracy and representative, theocracies and dictatorships, and none have managed to establish justice or end misery. The problem lies not in the institution, but in the fact that institutions are run by people. Millennia of evolution made us the most dangerous and aggressive species on the planet; we were already the keystone species long, long before the first civilizations began. The instincts that served us so well in the struggle of Man Vs. Jaguar are the very ones that create the struggle of Man Vs. Man, the ones that turn man into monster. We can't save the world as long as it's being run by killer apes.

This is where religion comes in. Religion isn't about changing the world; it's about changing the man in the mirror- if you can save him, the world will follow. If we loved our neighbors as we love ourselves, the problems we're trying to save the world from largely wouldn't exist in the first place. If we save ourselves, we will save the world in the process. Of course I don't mean saving us from Hell, I mean saving us from our follies, our petty vanities, our unthinking angers. Of all the sermons preached in all the UU congregations last year- tens of thousands of sermons- I'd bet you could count on one hand the number of sermons on sin. Don't roll your eyes at me; I'm not talking about preaching a vengeful God- the Seven Deadly Sins are just as deadly even absent a god, you know.

The world needs a church that teaches that spirituality is not the exclusive province of the true believer; one that teaches that the words of the prophets are true not because of which god inspired them, but because they point the way to a better life; one that teaches that right and wrong are valid concepts not because it will save your soul, but because wrong thoughts and wrong actions cause the misery we see around us. The world needs a church that can help the individual deal with the insanity he sees all around him, help him find meaning in a world that tells him individuals are meaningless without telling him to wait for the pie in the sky. The kind of message that mainstream religions, by their very nature, cannot deliver. Whether we can- or even want to- remains to be seen.

Linda said, "...if this faith is saved from irrelevance it will be because most of our 1000+ congregations are able to perceive the need for change and move in the direction that keeps us relevant." Too true. But I feel the only change that can return us to relevance is to return to the things that a church does. The certain path to irrelevance is to continue our headlong rush towards becoming just another political action committee. Spending all your time and money trying to grow the church when you don't understand why it exists in the first place is another path to irrelevance. And for these reasons, I will be voting for Laurel Hallman for UUA President. I believe that Laurel's decades as a minister and her "Living By Heart" show the instincts and temperament of a church leader. I don't know that we can become a relevant church again, but I believe she's our only hope.


Elizabeth said...

I have been preaching something like this in my sermons for the short time I have been been giving them, although I never put it like this. I always struggled with the idea that we need to save the world - but rather wanted to bring it back to our own lives and how we struggle so much to live out even our own values in our own lives - which makes it hard to somehow lead others or force them or guilt them into living out our values when we struggle to live them out ourselves. You have helped to clarify for me what I was trying to say. Thank you. And, not to make a really long comment, but have also helped me put the finger on why I struggled with a lot of what I have read from Rev. Morales. Thanks!

Unknown said...

I had long wanted to hear a UU position on sin, so a couple years ago, in a congregational auction, I bought the right to choose a sermon topic. $125 I paid! For a sermon on sin.

Here it is:

I ran through our congregational archives and realize it's not a sermon the minister has chosen to post online. That's interesting in itself. It was clearly a difficult subject for him. Note: Rev Bryce and I were both brought up Unitarians, which is perhaps why we were interested and confounded by finding a UU view.

Maybe this should be a second posting, but: In the debate over the presidency, Morales speaks to me because -- as a lifelong UU -- I have always believed that we have true good news (Forrest Church has a great sermon on the Gospel of Unitarianism). While my world begins with me, it certainly doesn't end with me, and getting our message to other people may be the single deepest cause of my life.

The article on African UU-ism in this month's world has set me thinking. Here is a group that almost denies the existence of homosexuality although it lives with AIDS on a daily basis, and which embraces polygamy. Yet we are considering an outreach to it because of its acceptance of the message of Universalism. I predict this will be a thorn in our side; the African Anglican communion has brought little joy to American Episcopalians or to Canterbury, for that matter.

But I think that a Morales presidency will force us to examine these questions sooner rather than later. That world is out there whether we like it or not, and focusing on our own small selves will only delay that examination.

Brian said...

For me a person of faith approaches the world with a keen awareness of ones own imperfections and even brokenness. In short, faith is humble and self-examining. Such a position can ultimately lead to efforts to improve the world around us. But I feel a lot of UUs want to skip that first (uncomfortable) step and go directly to saving the world. This is rather arrogant, not very humble, and claims a place of power and more-important-than-you. This does not feel faith-inspired. Indeed it is different only in specific vision but not attitude from a lot of fundamentalists from a lot of religions.

Jane Middleton said...

Very interesting post! I agree with so much of what you say, but come down on the opposite side. So much clarity can be gained in the to and fro of civil discourse.

Like you, I feel the need to go deeper, and I agree that change must start with the person in the mirror. Where I disagree is that I don't see the UUA as the locus of spiritual transformation. Rather, I believe that work lies within the individual and his or her congregation: I work to transform myself, which then affects an ever-widening pool -- my congregation, my community; ultimately, the world.

I see the UUA -- literally, the "Association of UU Congregations," as the focus of our faith's work in the world. So by my lights, Rev. Hallman is probably just where she is best suited -- in a vital, growing church.

And as for Linda Laskowski's comment about saving the world, I think you said it best: "the world needs a church that teaches that spirituality is not the exclusive province of the true believer; one that teaches that the words of the prophets are true not because of which god inspired them, but because they point the way to a better life; one that teaches that right and wrong are valid concepts not because it will save your soul, but because wrong thoughts and wrong actions cause the misery we see around us."

I think that's exactly what Linda meant. Those are the gifts Unitarian Universalism brings to the world. It grieves me to think that the faith is shrinking. My hope is that a more effective UUA can turn that around.

Lastly, I think you presented a false dichotomy by saying that, unlike Hallman supporters, Morales supporters aren't interested in going deeper. For me, the choice has rather to do with what I think the purpose of the UUA is.

Thank you for this opportunity to express a differing opinion.

In faith,

Jane Middleton
Member, UU Church of Berkeley

Anonymous said...

Joel, thank you for a wonderfully crafted post. You hit the nail on the head on so many issues facing us a faith. My conclusion however is to vote for Morales for the same reasons you believe Hallman to be the one. What this tells me is that as a faith group we have agreement in wanting what is going to keep us relevant in the 21st century. How we acheive that will always be debated.

John A Arkansawyer said...

One point, Diggitt: In Africa, most AIDS cases involve heterosexual sex. You've connected two things in a way that isn't strictly factual.