Do We Pray?
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.