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 says—especially 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…