Sunday, September 11, 2005

Do We Pray?

Philocrites posted a notice about an interfaith prayer service in Boston, and a commenter asked him if he prays:

He asked it nicely but still, it fries me.

I am so sick of people asking Unitarian Universalists if they participate in basic, generic religious practices, but of course it isn't their fault for asking.

We've well earned our reputation as this exotic hot house flower, bizarr-o humanist cult you need to approach with the trepidation of a jackrabbit among a pack of wolves when inquiring about religious practices: "Excuse me, sirs and ma'ams, would it be okay if I prayed for the dead here in your building? Or are we only allowed to 'think good thoughts?'"

I was at the Andover-Newton Theological School opening worship the other day and found it far less than cute when the president of the school cracked a joke (the first of thousands I'm sure to hear during my doctoral studies there) about having to get along with both UNITARIANS and BAPTISTS. When he said the word "Unitarian," there was this deep, mellow chuckle from the student body, and one UU shouted out, "GODDESS Forbid!!"

I groaned. Is the theological issue of gendering God now a joke? How might things look today if UUs had historically taken as seriously our calling to do public theology as we do political activism?

How many times have I attended an interfaith clergy gathering and been instantly insulted and marginalized because all the other religious leaders were indoctrinated by some previous UU to believe that we don't pray, we will not read that Bible passage, we are pre-offended by any ideas you might have, and we expect to be capitulated to in our every terminally unique need or whim or we will stamp our teeny, tiny wounded feet and slam out the door? I've taken to arriving early to all such gatherings so I can do damage control before the meeting starts.

There is a way to represent a theologically pluralistic people without communicating the idea that we're inherently hostile to those things widely and universally associated with "religion." I've said it before and I'll say it again: we can do what we like in our own congregations, but if we keep expecting the rest of the world to define "religious" in a radically different way than they've been doing since the time of the prophets, we're going to be wallflowers for a long, long time.

We could have been building bridges, teaching, inviting dialogue and respectfully challenging orthodoxy (and even mainstream) Christianity all these years. Instead, we blithely threw out traditions without replacing them with heartier ones, gave away our worship practices to the loudest whiner, allowed organizations that are hostile to the very premise of religion into our association of congregations, and sold our birthright for a ...well, not a mess of pottage. I don't know what.


Blogger SC Universalist said...

and thank you Peacebang, for trying to rebuild those burnt fences -- it's a tough and generally thankless job - so let me thank you again. Some of us do appreciate it!

Blogger Jess said...

I about groaned outloud today in church when the minister, who is not afraid to say the G-word, said "Now let us enter into prayer. . . and meditation," and the guy behind me said, "Oh, meditation, I can do that." It was as if he would have stood up and left if the minister had left off the buzzword. Oy.

Blogger fausto said...

You got a birthright you don't want? I'll eat it it you don't want it. Pottage would be okay too. Please, I'm prayin' here.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Jess, right, because you can go into a really deep place of meditation in sixty seconds!

Honestly folks, if you don't pray, don't feel you have to! When this one really anxious old dear in my congregation asks me what she should do when we're praying (and yes, I use all kinds of terms for what we're doing), I say, "Well, if no prayerful spirit comes upon you, just use the quiet time to relax and love the people around you. Or if you can't do that, plan your grocery shopping."

It's not like I haven't put the time into having half a dozen heavy duty theological discussions with her. She just likes to fret, and I've learned not to try to take that away from her.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Goat, you canNOT have any of my sushi, either.

Blogger Oversoul said...

“How might things look today if UUs had historically taken as seriously our calling to do public theology as we do political activism?”

You’re scratching my itch baby.

I pray. I pray often; as my blog says, I like to collect prayers that speak to and sometimes for my soul. Some of the best (in my opinion of course) prayers I’ve collected have come from UU ministers. One of my favorite prayer books is “Prayers to an Evolutionary God” by William Cleary, a former Jesuit priest who is married to a UU minister. He also wrote a great prayer book called “A Doubter’s Prayerbook” that captures the reality of any honest theists’ struggle with faith.

Again, not to rag on UUism, but one of the things about UU worship services that I’ve tended to dislike, is in place of any meaningful attempt at prayer there are endless readings, and a silent time for reflection/meditation on “that which has no name/which is of ultimate meaning/insert bland watered down description here.”


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