Monthly Archives: August 2012

My UU Debut

This past Sunday was a day of first’s for me.

To start, I preached my first sermon in a Unitarian Universalist church. Even with the reduced schedule for summer services and the usual summer attrition–not to mention it was a gorgeous 70 degree day and the Chicago Air and Water Show was taking place–there were still well over 100 people in attendance, about twice the number of people I am used to sharing with on any given Sunday. So the butterflies in my stomach were quite active before the service. Fortunately, I know a few people at the this church; so seeing their smiling faces along with my supportive husband Richard sitting in the crowd–plus practicing some very intentional meditative breathing–calmed my nerves well before I rose to speak.

It was also the first time I used readings other than biblical passages as the foundation of my sermon. These readings were “Risk” by Anais Nin and a quote from “Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian” by Paul Knitter. In case you’re wondering, these are the words:

From Anais Nin:

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

And from Paul Knitter:

“Our religious self, like our cultural and social self…takes shape through an ongoing process…of forming a sense of self and then expanding or correcting that sense as we meet other selves. There is no such thing as a neatly defined, once-and-for-all identity.”

The final first was that this sermon is the first time I have verbalized–in a public setting, anyway–that I now find myself beginning to embrace Religious Humanism.

While I didn’t elaborate on this statement during the sermon, I should probably clarify for those reading this post (and especially for those who know me well and might be hyperventilating at this point) what I mean by that statement. The best way I can do that is to quote Jerome Nathanson: “…we believe there is room for a great many differing interpretations of everything that is, and still may be. It is that we believe the justification of any religious faith, including an ethical faith, is not to be found in its grounding (important as this is for each of us individually), but in its consequences.” That is, I don’t care what anyone’s religion saysespecially about concepts that cannot be proven–as much as I care about what that religion inspires us to do.

No one at Unity Temple UUC raised an eyebrow or walked out in protest when I shared my story. Nor did they do so when, during the Faith Sharing portion of the service, a gentleman “came out” about his journey from being raised with no religious foundation to over time finding meaning for his life in the teachings of Jesus. As a matter of fact, I saw several smiles and nods of familiarity throughout both portions of the service.

This ability to hold a wide variety of beliefs and practice in creative tension is what primarily attracts me to Unitarian Universalism. In fact I pointed out in my sermon that UU ism seems to operate using some of the principles of Chaos Theory where “strange attractors” define a basin of attraction, a container within which a system can experiment with new forms of itself without totally disappearing. And deep within these sometimes chaotic systems lies what physicist David Bohn calls “an implicate order” (from the “Emerging Church” by Bruce Sanguin).

My UU debut was very good for me. It challenged me to experiment with new forms of myself  in a safe environment without totally losing myself in the process. The process of preparing the sermon, delivering it and actually feeling it as I shared with the congregation gave me a new sense of freedom and peace about my continuing journey–as chaotic as it will be at times.

Now, I wonder what would happen if more of our communities became “basins of attraction” where we could experiement with new forms of ourselves? I wonder what would happen if we not only allowed, but actually encouraged people in our faith communities to “embrace the chaos” that comes with growth and change in all areas of our lives?

Just something to consider…

Where is God?

The recent theatre shootings in Aurora, Colorado have generated the entire spectrum of human feelings and reactions that come with such senseless tragedy. Emotions like anger, sorrow, confusion and emotional/spiritual numbness have all been expressed at varying levels by thousands, if not millions, of people.

There has also been some very unhelpful religious rhetoric shared as well.  In an opinion piece published on OneNewsNow and an interview broadcast by the American Family Association, Jerry Newcombe, spokesperson for Truth In Action ministries, made essentially two points: 1) Tragedies like the Aurora theater mass murder happen because people no longer believe in hell, and 2) Unless the victims of such tragedies “know Christ” or if they “knowingly rejected Jesus Christ,” they’re on their way to hell (Kevin Miller, Huffington Post, July 24, 2012).

These shootings have also revived the gun control debate. Gun control advocates are calling for tighter restrictions on the sale of large quantities of ammunition as well as on the sale of assault weapons. Others, like Townhall columnist Doug Giles are calling for more guns. Giles says he carries at least one gun everywhere he goes just to stop some James Holmes wannabe: “the good citizen is to get equipped with a gun—a fire-breathing dragon of a weapon…[m]ake it like a cell phone….” (Lara Riscol, Alter Net, July 23, 2012).

Then there are the folks who mix the gun control debate with unhelpful religious rhetoric, like Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who blamed the latest slaughter on “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs,” and wondered why theatergoers weren’t packing heat to stop the bloodshed (Lara Riscol, Alter Net, July 23, 2012).

Gohmert went on to say, “People say … where was God in all of this? We’ve threatened high school graduation participations, if they use God’s name, they’re going to be jailed … I mean that kind of stuff. Where was God? What have we done with God? We don’t want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present.” In the OneNewsNow article mentioned earlier, Newcombe is quoted as saying, “I can’t help but feel that to some extent, we’re reaping what we’ve been sowing as a society. We said to God, “Get out of the public arena.” Lawsuit after lawsuit, often by misguided “civil libertarians,” have chased away any fear of God in the land — at least in the hearts of millions.”

So where was God during the Aurora tragedy? Indeed, where is God in all the mayhem we witness—and sometimes even experience ourselves? Humans have been wrestling with this question throughout our existence. And the answers to this question are as diverse as humanity itself.

It should be no surprise to anyone that I do not share the views of Jerry Newcombe, Doug Giles and Rep. Gohmert. They are certainly entitled to hold and share their viewpoints—and so am I. To me, the god of Newcombe and Gohmert is a “Spoiled Child god” who demands we sacrifice the use of reason, intellect and respect for diversity of viewpoints and trade them in for guns to keep the peace.

I guess they’ve overlooked Jesus’ opposition to violence and rebuttal of the old “eye for an eye” law. As a matter of fact, for self-proclaimed Christians, their failure to mention Jesus at all in their responses to the Aurora tragedy is a rather glaring omission to me. So who knows? Maybe they remembered Jesus’ teachings on violence and decided to bypass him and “go to the top,” so to speak. Their god—to me—is a retro god who demands we turn our plowshares back into swords—or else.

And I have absolutely no interest in that kind of god…

Still, my disagreement with this concept of God doesn’t answer the question at hand, does it? I often speak of “the God within,” or “the Light within,” or “the Divine Presence within.” That is, for me, God is not “out there somewhere” allowing innocents to be slaughtered because he/she/it/they aren’t getting enough attention.  When we express our highest selves—like the young man who lost his life protecting his girlfriend in the Aurora theatre, or the 13 year-old who unsuccessfully tried to save the life of the six year-old who died in that same tragedy—we are expressing light, love and selfless compassion. Some people would say those and countless other less publicized–but just as important—acts of love and light committed every day are expressions of the nature of God.

So that is my answer as to the whereabouts of God. God—or whatever you choose to call it—resides within each of us. Some of us access that divine potential more often than others; and unfortunately it seems that—for whatever reasons—others are unable, or unwilling, to live into their fullest and highest potentials.

You may agree with me, or you may not. In the end, it doesn’t matter all that much to me  whether we agree or not; what matters to me is how together people of all faiths–and of no faith–can bring hope, healing, peace and love to a world with far too many weapons and far too many people—including religious people—with itchy trigger fingers.

Blessed be, namaste and amen.