Comments, We Get Comments!!
Let me say how wonderful it's been to see the dozens upon dozens of comments on everything from LORD to fashion bloopers to tapas to the letter I got off-line from a recent seminary graduate who used the f-word several times in her emphatic response to my posting on God language. Whoo, girl! I hear you! Now cool down or you'll never get through July!
I appreciate my colleague from the South who wrote to inform me that I have been misspelling "YA'LL!" It's Y'ALL!" I think!
(Did I get that right, finally?)
Someone asked me what my favorite tapas was. Chalice Chick was my dinner date -- she let me be the boy and order for both of us (Oh, stop. I KNOW it's a vile gender stereotype; it just happens to be one that I particularly like) and she'll have to add her 2 cents' worth here. I loved the gooey manchego cheese and beef thing. I also loved the oysters. I loved the mojitos and the CUBAN FRIES and ... everything. It was a fabulous, fabulous meal.
One more word about the LORD, you big huge bunch of brainiacs.
I forgot to tell you that one of my favorite expressions is "Lord have mercy." It used to be kind of a hipster ironic thing I said, but it grew on me. I say it a lot now and I really mean it.
I was very touched by what Jamie wrote here:
in response to my saying that I hurt "almost all the time" in UU settings.
I want to say that I don't hurt in my own church. Hardly ever. I think it's actually fascinating that no matter how often I say that, people jump to that conclusion. I am left to conclude that my readers would rather keep assuming that I'm frustrated within my parish than to hear what I'm really saying out of my experience with UUs in seven states and dozens of congregations, eight General Assemblies and countless district gatherings. Someone said he thought it sounded like my congregation was "mostly supportive." Not mostly, honey, 100%. I know I brag on my church too much, but there's good reason.
I hurt because of the way we hear each other's stories in the wider movement. I hurt because we've been encouraged, nay, trained, to hear someone's deep truth and respond with our critical analysis of that truth rather than just with "thank you."
I hurt not so much for me as for all of us: for the missed opportunities for ministry, for the intimacies that don't occur, for the companionable silences we often don't make space for, for the gracious receiving of someone else's spiritual experience. Perhaps Small Group Ministries are fostering a better sense of hospitality among us. I hope so. But all too often, when one of us says, "I have found that I deeply believe in God" or "I have reached a transcendent state of peace," UUs hearing them are likely to jump in with something like, "Oh. Well, here's why I don't believe in God" or "Here's why your choice of language feels abusive to me" or "What's transcendence and how can you be sure you've achieved it?" or "I don't think human nature really lends itself to peace, but hey, best of luck with that."
Where did we pick up these lousy habits??
Let's take a look at sermon "talk-backs," long popular among us:
A preacher deeply and prayerfully considers a topic, researches it, crafts it carefully so that it will minister to his people, and he gives it from the pulpit on a Sunday morning. What took him two weeks to think about, days to live with in his mind and twelve to fifteen hours to research and compose is heard in 20 minutes. Instead of receiving the sermon as a gift of the ministry, folks are led to believe they're hearing a lecture to which they have every right to respond. Therefore, they listen to the sermon not in the spirit of reception and appreciation, but in a critical manner, taking notes on their programs and pouncing on weak points so they can highlight their deficiencies in the "talk-back" (what a hostile term in the first place!). Their off-the-cuff, immediate reactions to what was said (or their reactions to what they thought was said) are considered worthy enought to include within the worship service. Voila: the lifting up of unconsidered, immediate opinion as liturgically appropriate, i.e., deserving of congregational consideration within the sacred space of worship.
In the Puritan era, "talk-backs" followed a sermon that was based exclusively on the Scriptures. Therefore, talk-backs provided the people an opportunity to disagree or to gently challenge the minister on his or her interpretation of the Word. The difference between the Puritan and the contemporary talk-back is that, in the 17th century, while the pastor was meditating on the meaning of a biblical text within the context of his time and place, so were his church members meditating on the same text at the same time and place. In other words, reactions and opinions were grounded in common spiritual practices, learning and reflection.
I use this illustration to highlight how what was once a practice of mutual discernment degenerated to a free-form carnival of opinions, in an era where everyone is free to ground themselves in whatever religious truths they feel drawn to, and where everyone feels equally free to critique one another's truths from the comfort of their own perspective. I don't think there's much health or care in this approach.
Yes, I do have some ideas for how this might be improved ;-)
I am a big fan of Bible study, book groups that focus on religious works that feature a variety of perspectives, and thematic, inter-generational religious education themes that an entire congregation can undertake over a year's time together.
I believe that whoever touted Bible study as a great way to "survive" in the Bible belt, i.e., to gather spiritual ammunition of a sort against our ideological foes, is only partly right. I advocate studying the Bible because it's epic and crazy and gorgeous and the cornerstone of tons of Western art and literature, and because it belongs to us as UUs, dagnabit.
Let me ask you all this:
I grew up UU, as you know, and as a young adult I became very interested in spiritual disciplines and practices that would actually transform my inner life in some significant way. My first successful attempt at spiritual discipline occurred for me in college, when I set about changing my heart and mind in order to win liberation from the demon Jealousy. It took me two years of arduous spiritual work, but I conquered that demon through a combination of psychological study, Christian prayer and Wiccan ritual. Out of the desperation of my miserable soul, I created this hodgepodge of spiritual aid. Were there Unitarian Universalist spiritual practices I should have known about?
What I'm wondering is, since I now undertake most of my spiritual discipline within a Christian context (with much support from Tibetan Buddhism and other sources), I would like to know what you consider UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST spiritual practice.
In other words, what are your specifically UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST spiritual practices that aren't learned or borrowed directly from "other" traditions? Assuming that UUism isn't just a happy smorgasboard of Everything (and I don't think that it is), what spiritual practices and disciplines would you say are distinctly ours? Which UU practices and disciplines do you use?