'Tis the Season For Terminal Uniqueness
"People say that Jesus was the Son of God, but UUs believe that..."
"Advent is a time when Christians wait for the coming of the Christ child. But for Unitarian Universalists..."
"Jewish people celebrate the festival of lights, Hanukah, this month. UU's don't believe in miracles, but..."
This Advent season, I'm making it a point to try to avoid this kind of phrase, believing as I do that if Unitarian Universalism is to survive the coming century, it will do so not by making its exclusive brand more appealing to the masses ("The Uncommon Denomination!") but by moving beyond its stifling isolationism into a more ecumenical position in our culture. No matter how far we have moved from our Christian origins, our theological heritage is in liberal and heretical Christianity. We are still unmistakably culturally Christian in our forms of worship, our congregational structure, and our theological identity (how can you tell? If we weren't, we wouldn't be fighting so hard against it).
Whether or not we can move into a more inter-faith position in our culture is not only up to us but up to the faithful of other world religions, who may know of our desire to be regarded as their spiritual kin, but may or may not appreciate our dabbling in their prayers and practices.
Unitarian Universalist questions about the existence of God, the relative "divineness" of Jesus, the divine spark in humankind (is it in everyone? Is it in Hitler and the BTK and Saddam Hussein?), the afterlife, the integrity of the Church, the worth of the Bible, the efficacy of prayer, and how to square scientific knowledge of the material world with mystical intuitions of the spiritual realm, are shared by practically every non-fundamentalist religious person in our midst. Yet we persist -- especially this time of year -- in acting as though these questions are unique to us, examining commonplace theological questions with a gee-whiz naivete, as though we were the first to think of them.
Is this really the best way to minister to our faithful? Yes, it may appeal to those who are walking through the door for the first time ("Wow! I've never heard this suggested out loud in a church before!"), but it does not give much spiritual sustenance to those who are beyond the negations of their old traditions and seeking a faith based in affirmation.
Unitarian Universalists are not the only religious people who doubt very much that a virgin got pregnant by the Holy Spirit approximately nine months ago, that angels visited shepherds the night he was born, and that a star shone in the East that beckoned Wise Men to bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They are not the only ones who mostly don't believe that God literally filled the lamp of the Maccabees with oil to last the eight days it took to reconsecrate the Temple. Our religious heritage has so much more to offer than dismantling Bible stories, kicking at christology and debunking miraculous tales.
This holiday season, I hope we will seek not so much to take our place outside the religious world as gadflies and myth-busters but as weavers of an especially strong and beautiful vision within the religious world.
"Don't be cynical, Algy. It's perfectly easy to be cynical."
-- from "The Importance of Being Earnest," Oscar Wilde