Monday, June 12, 2006

Having Opinions

Jess is an optimist about sharing opinions, and writes:

"Perhaps in reflecting a bit more deeply, the UU blogging community can come up with a Carnival that will not just be about cheerleading, but about expressing individual opinions that as a whole draw us closer together and open our doors wider for more people to come in. There is room for my opinion, yours, and the neighbor down the street or across the globe. It is our freedom to express these opinions and learn from one another, to my mind, that makes Unitarian Universalist community so rich and rewarding."

I agree that the blogging community is all about expressing individual opinions and feeding one another into conversation. That's great, and obviously that's what I do here at PeaceBang.

However, my objection to the eternal Sharing Of Opinions comes when we suggest doing so as programming that is actually supposed to achieve something (like growth, as Jess suggests).

I have been watching for some years now, and I really don't think that the Sharing Of Opinions About Who We Are attracts anybody to us. In fact, I think that many people who find us are mighty turned off by our continual fascination with convening conferences and gatherings that focus on Who We Are.

I compare our flounderings with the recent UCC gathering I attended where the workshops were all focused on the arts of ministry in worship.
Picture this: the whole conference gathers together for an opening worship that reminds everyone what they are (Christians), whose they are (Christ's), and what they're about (building up the kingdom of God here on earth). Boom. No discussion really needed. They're United Church of Christ folks, so they know that they're liberal religious and therefore they read Scripture critically, they are skeptical of authority, they believe revelation is ongoing, they generally agree that Jesus's life mattered more than the way he died, there are plenty among them who would scoff at the notion of literal resurrection and all of them reject the notion of the virgin birth, they are mostly feminists or know they should be, they are welcoming of sexual minorities, they are striving for diversity in all aspects of their religious movement. Many of them are eclectic in their spirituality, openly sharing their interest in Buddhist meditation, feminist spirituality and goddess reverence, indigenous spiritual practices like shamanism, Judaic studies, interest in Islamic notions of God and community, and many other spiritual systems and practices.

Meanwhile, Unitarian Universalists share every one of those basic commitments and yet continue to insist that they are an entirely new thing under the sun, religiously speaking. Meanwhile, for all their supposed diversity, they are also almost all white, almost all attend worship on Sunday mornings in what closely resembles a traditional Protestant worship service, they are almost all in relationship with a congregation led by ordained ministers, and they generally read the same books, listen to the same radio stations and hold the same political opinions as the UCC gang.
They claim to be different because they're really diverse religiously or theologically, yet a minute number of them practice anything other than Vague Religious Seeking in the form of reading books, attending discussions, and Having Opinions. They have been encouraged to think of this as "being UU" by their ministers and leaders. It is not their fault. Very few of them have been given the tools or the teachings to enter deeply into any specific spiritual practices -- something for which many of them hunger and remain frustrated -- and very few of them have anything but a passing acquaintance with any world religion other than Christianity, which they often vehemently reject.

No one has had the vision or the nerve to offer them a living tradition that can be clearly defined in affirmatives, and have filled them on a steady diet of revolving opinions, and so only the most chronically curious, robust and self-directed stay on. The rest go away with their ribs poking through their spiritual skins, just about starved.

I am coming to deeply believe that Unitarian Universalism is only a viable religious path for the most chronically curious, robust and self-directed spiritual seekers. I am coming to deeply believe that even those feisty souls are being starved, but that they heroically continue to subsist on the incredibly thin gruel we have all agreed to ingest simply because it can be tolerated by every stomach. I am coming to deeply believe that this spiritual starvation is an offense against the God of my understanding, who isn't nearly as offended by being denied by Unitarian Universalists as S/He is by a covenanted people mistaking Opinions for vocation.

14 Comments:

Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

What would an improved UUism look like? What should a UU gathering consist of?

15:04  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

In brief, an improved UUism would "look like" a really energetic, visionary group of people who, when you saw them, would seem like the most loving, inviting, and free people you'd ever come upon. They would be truly diverse not just in race and ethnicity but in economic and educational background.
Our gatherings (and some of them do) should consist of teachings from congregational life, with emphasis on religious education, models for successful community witness, revitalizing and deepening worship, music resources, spiritual practices, studies in our tradition. All would be held with a spirit of loving unity, sister and brotherhood. You would feel the spirit, not just hear it in words. Above all, this unity would NOT BE DEFINED by "we're so great compared to everything else that's being offered as religion out there."

It is this latter attitude that I believe poisons too many of our gatherings that are otherwise exciting, and we have indulged it in each other for far too long.

15:42  
Blogger Jess said...

I think we're closer to the same page than we may at first seem.

"Having opinions" perhaps isn't the best term for what I'd like to see in UU blog writing - "Deep personal reflection" is more like it. And I don't think we can get to your vision of "improved UUism," which I love, by the way, without doing some individual delving first. Many many of our congregations are full of people who are new to Unitarian Universalism, and I feel it's important that those newcomers especially have better, more guided opportunities to do their spiritual math.

Really, we don't have the luxury of your UCC example, because many many of our members DON'T know who we are and ARE floundering. No number of chalice circles can solve that - we need someone or someones to step up and work on the communal identity in a big way. Then maybe more of our congregations will have direction rather than a loose association of like-minded people.

16:02  
Blogger CK said...

FWIW, I just posted my thoughts on this at Arbmarks. I'm thinking maybe our first theme could be, "What's the purpose of the UU Carnival?"

That would be a nice, ironic start...

16:27  
Blogger Kim said...

How can we be like-minded people and be diverse too? How can we be really introspective people who want to 'build our own theology" and be very diverse too? How can we think hard about religion all the time and not seem to be "too" intellectual? How can we say we are not spiritual enough but not define spiritual? How can our "thin gruel" be nourishing, and still be palatable to all? Hinduism says that there are four(?) basic approaches to the divine and that different personalities see different paths. Is it possible to appeal to all types without being hopelessly bland? Can we satisfy all of them without making others feel neglected? If there are four basic paths, then everyone is a minority: Can we all feel welcome if we are all minorities? How do we learn to be satisfied with being a minority in our own home? Can we practise enough radical hospitality to make everyone feel welcome even though we perceive them as different from me? (yes)
I do not intend these as rhetorical questions. Can we really do all these conflicting things and do it elegantly? Is it possible? That description we were offered of the UCC sounded great -- except for the Christian part. But do those guys really do it better than we do? Or is the grass just greener on the other side of the fence? I agree that we probably shouldn't be so self-congratulatory, but still... we are different in that one thing -- we aren't all Christian. I have never been Christian, and I wouldn't know what to do with that. I would not be comfortable in a congregation where everyone was Christian (or Buddhist, or Jewish, or Moslem, or Shinto, or Hindu or etc.). Are you saying there is no place for me?
i, personally, experience UU as more spiritual than you describe. But that's just me. I, personally, do not find "smells and bells" to be spiritual, but theatrical. Am I invalid? Is my spirituality suspect?
My partner says that UCC has more heart than UU. It's emotionally warmer than UU. There could be more heart in UU -- does more heart mean less head? Must it?

20:16  
Blogger CK said...

Kim said:
"I would not be comfortable in a congregation where everyone was Christian (or Buddhist, or Jewish, or Moslem, or Shinto, or Hindu or etc.). Are you saying there is no place for me?"

That is exactly what I've heard from others as well.

As for the other points, that's why I'm hoping to get folks in my church thinking about approaches to religious pluralism that aren't the 'thin gruel' of "we're better than everyone else" or "everyone means the same thing in the end" etc.

It's hard, but there are ways to start towards answering these questions.

21:03  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Kim, how about if EVERYONE is a Unitarian Universalist? Would you be able to feel there is still a place for you? My point about the UCC wasn't to suggest that we should all be Christian. It was to share the power and the unity and the warmth that comes with saying we are ALL ONE THING, religiously. If we can start embracing that,and articulating what it means without nitpicking each other to death in vicious and cruel ways, we can live and thrive.

I don't know that it will ever happen, but before I give up in defeat I want to at least have screamed and yelled about it with all my might and mein.

My observation is that many folks are UUs precisely because they cherish the ability to fight viciously in the name of "pluralism" and to worship the idol of Individuality under the guise of our First Principle.

22:07  
Blogger Kim said...

It was to share the power and the unity and the warmth that comes with saying we are ALL ONE THING, religiously. If we can start embracing that,and articulating what it means....

What does it mean? What are we? I heard Rebecca Parker talk about that at District Assembly a few weeks ago, and what she said sounded great. I just can't remember what it was now. I find that happens a lot -- someone will come up with a good description, and it sounds great, but it doesn't seem to stick in my head. Somehow I feel when the right description comes along it should stick in my head....
The comment about how we should be emotionally warmer I thought was interesting -- I came back to UUism and got involved again because the other group I was very involved in was so cold it made UUs look really warm and cuddly.
Anyway, I don't think my congregation's main focus is "we're better than everyone else". There may be strains of that, but I don't think it's the focus. About too much individualism -- I'm not sure.

00:48  
Blogger chutney said...

Just posted a long meta-reply.

22:40  
Blogger Clyde Grubbs said...

The Art of Prophecy consists of making a generalization about the present crisis

and offering an alternative vision of possibilities

the shadow of prophecy is that those counter examples to the generalization do not get any light, and stay hidden in the shadow of the generalization.

The "new UU" orientation does make our public worship banal at times, and the participatory aspect of "who are we discussions" do bring out some narcissism,


but there are many old UUs still growing, and some folks who know that we are a saving community because they have experienced liberation and healing and don't need to argue the point with the intellectual stimulation crowd.

09:58  
Blogger Clyde Grubbs said...

The Art of Prophecy consists of making a generalization about the present crisis

and offering an alternative vision of possibilities

the shadow of prophecy is that those counter examples to the generalization do not get any light, and stay hidden in the shadow of the generalization.

The "new UU" orientation does make our public worship banal at times, and the participatory aspect of "who are we discussions" do bring out some narcissism,


but there are many old UUs still growing, and some folks who know that we are a saving community because they have experienced liberation and healing and don't need to argue the point with the intellectual stimulation crowd.

09:59  
Blogger Mystical Seeker said...

am coming to deeply believe that Unitarian Universalism is only a viable religious path for the most chronically curious, robust and self-directed spiritual seekers.

Speaking as a non-UU who has dabbled in UUism and was a regular attender at a UU church many years ago, I always thought that this idea of a religion of "chronically curious, robust, and self-directed spiritual seekers" was somoehow supposed to be the great virtue of the UU faith. Isn't it supposed to be about endless doubt and endless seeking and endless openness to other religiouis traditions? When I read George Marshall's "Challenge of Liberal Faith" years ago, I guess that was sort of what I took away from it. But it's been years since I read it, so maybe I'm wrong.

But to be honest, this is why I never joined that UU church and why I started looking elsewhere for spiritual sustenance. I loved the openness to diverse religious traditions (although, curiously, there was hostility towards Christianity in the church I attended, so I guess that this tolerance only went so far.) Yet I also felt there was a certain dry intellectualism to UUism, and I was looking for more. (I settled for a while into Quakerism, although lately I've drifted away from that as well. I still haven't found my spiritual home.)

12:23  
Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

... am coming to deeply believe that Unitarian Universalism is only a viable religious path for the most chronically curious, robust and self-directed spiritual seekers.


*gulp*
Is this bad?

13:39  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Not at all, not at all. We should know this about ourselves, though, and honestly discern whether or not we implicitly dis-invite many seekers if we assume that one can be a UU only if one has those qualities. What about the non-robust seeker who wants to encounter a healing God and a healing community and who wants nothing more than to lay down the burden of seeking and finally come home?
Where is our home?
When we get to heaven, will we want heaven or the conversation about heaven?

13:46  

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