wizdUUm Blogs on Theology

When the Spirit Moves Us

I've got the Holy Spirit and interconnectedness on the brain these days.  I see them everywhere.

This morning before service, our discussion group was reading an essay from Rebecca Parker's Blessing the World where she describes a soldier's story of how he was ordered to take on a mission that he knew was hopeless.  He knew that most of his men would die, and yet, after some resistance, he gave in and did it anyway.  

We discussed the psychology behind that, how hard it is to go against the crowd.  And talk of war naturally led to discussion of the current war in Iraq, and how so many groups - the Dems, the media, the former generals... - are blaming each other now for not questioning the administration at the time, when the arguments in favor of war were so obviously faulty.

And as we talked, so many things came together.  How to relate them?  

First, I thought of how they too - the Dems, the media, the former generals... - were like that guy in Parker's story.  It's so hard to go against a crowd.  Second, I thought of my own complacency - how I knew the war was wrong but also kind of accepted that it was going to happen.  I felt powerless to stop it.  And then I remembered what Taquiena had told me - that those in power stay in power by convincing the rest of us that we have no power.  

It's so hard to go against a crowd.  And yet... if we had all gone against the crowd, or even just enough of us, we would have been the crowd.   If we had all used our power, or even just enough of us, we would have had the power to stop the war.  If enough of us had tried, the rest of us would have known that we weren't alone, and it would have been easier to try too.

I think we've all experienced it.  When the losing team of a game all of the sudden starts to believe they can win and then they seem unstoppable.  Or when a political movement ignites.  When people who thought they were powerless realize they have power.

That is the Holy Spirit of Life in action.  Moving through us.  Connecting us.  Empowering us.


Good and Evil and the Individual

I needed a day to reflect on this...

Yesterday in the office we had theological reflection on the shootings at Virginia Tech, and I struggled once again to reconcile our belief in a divine spark within each of us - our innate capacity for Godliness - and what one person did to 32 others and himself.  And as I was speaking it occurred to me that I was framing the question incorrectly - that my conceiving of us as separate individuals was getting in the way of discernment.

Later on yesterday, as I prepared for a course I'm co-facilitating at All Souls, I read that in liberation theology sin is not conceived of at the level of individual failure, but rather societal systems of oppression.  Sin is the perpetuance of systems that prevent people from reaching their full potential.

I have said for a long time now that there are good and evil acts, but one cannot judge an individual as either good or evil.  But I think I better understand now why it really is true.

Good and evil have no meaning in the context of an individual person.  They only have meaning in the interactions between people, in the effect we have on each other.  It is all about connection, and the lack of connection.

It is not quite right then to say then that God is inherently in us - as if we each are individual little containers of Godliness or goodliness.  Rather, we are only potential for such - potential that cannot be attained in isolation.  It is when we make connections that there is "good."  And it is when we perpetuate those things that keep us from connecting, or actively sever connection that there is "bad."

Again, in liberation theology, is the idea of the Holy Spirit as an active force flowing through all of creation, connecting.  God inherent in the connections between us.

We as UUs start with the inherent worth and dignity of the individual.  Because that's where our bias lies.  But really, it is the seventh principle that underlies the first.  Our interconnectedness is the basis for our worth.

Reflections on the 7th Principle

I was asked to give some spiritual/theological reflections to my congregation on Earth Day.  Here goes.


As Unitarian Universalists, we affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part.

Personally I think its funny that we felt the need to add that last bit – "of which we are a part."  If there is an interdependent web of all existence then of course we are a part of it, right?  But the need to add that last bit underscores our feeling of separateness.  We humans as separate from the rest of creation, from Earth.  We as individuals separate from each other. 

As a culture, we celebrate our independence instead of our interdependence.

Our 7th principle came to us late, being adopted in 1985, two dozen years after what in essence were the first 6 principles, and it’s the only one that mentions anything other than human beings. Yet it is much beloved and much cited amongst UUs.  Pagan UUs see in it a reverence for the earth.  Humanist UUs see in it a recognition of the theories of ecology – no living thing exists in isolation from its environment.  And given my Buddhist leanings, I see in it the concept of patrika samaipata – interdependent co-arising.  The idea that all existence is interdependent and mutually give rise to each other.

Our seventh principle calls us to recognize this inherent mutuality.  Separateness is an illusion.   Our existing separate from the world is an illusion.  Our existing separate from our effects on the world is an illusion.  That means we affect the world with everything we do, all of time.  Every time.

Our seventh principle calls us to recognize this inherent mutuality and equality.  There is no hierarchy.  It is not right that some of us can make decisions that affect others and they have no say in it.  Not only are all people equal.  But also, all existence is equal.  Just as we should not use another human to suit our needs, we should not us the rest of existence simply to suit our needs.  We are called to live in ways that are mutually beneficial to all.

Separateness from each other is an illusion.  I said that our 7th principle came to us late, but this idea has been with Unitarian Universalism since our beginning.  It was inherent in the Universalist concept of universal salvation.  Everyone is saved.  In other words, no one is saved unless everyone is saved.  In a religion that calls us to engage in this world, not some future world, there can be no “salvation” – however one defines salvation – unless it is for all of us.  Ultimately, there can be no clean air and water here for those of us who can afford it if there is no clean air and water there for everyone else.  We can try to compartmentalize it, we can try to build "gated communities", but ultimately that’s futile.    We are all in this together.

Lastly, there is one more illusion of separation that we must overcome.  Some of us tend to view spirituality as separate from justice.  We do our meditation or we contemplate a pristine vista and we consider that "spiritual."  And then we come back to the grimy city in order to do "justice."  We need to understand that doing the work of justice is spiritual work. The two are interdependent.

The word "religion" comes from the Latin, religare, to bind together.  Religion, and in particular our religion of Unitarian Universalism calls us to live whole, integrated lives.  On this Earth Day and every day.

When a Divine Spark Goes Dark

We were talking about yesterday's shootings at Virginia Tech in the office today. Over 30 people killed. Worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history. Shades of Columbine. Someone mentioned Kent State.  For me, what came to mind was stories of a guy in a clock tower in Austin TX.

It is a credit to my UU colleagues that while we expressed great sorrow for those killed, and especially for those left behind to grieve the loss, none of us vilified the shooter. No talk of evil, etc.

Still... I wonder... what makes a person want to kill a bunch of people that he doesn't know?

I am grappling with our belief in inherent worth and that each of us carries a spark of the Divine.  How can divinity wreak such evil?

Not long ago in church I tried to expand upon the analogy of the flame - our divine spark, our inner chalice.  Fire needs fuel to grow - it needs connection.  The easiest way to extinguish a flame is to cover it, isolate it from the oxygen around.  Even when battling large forest fires, where it would be impossible to cover or isolate from oxygen, the strategy is to dig fire lines and otherwise isolate the flames to keep them from spreading.  In isolation a flame dies.

In social isolation our divine spark dies as well.

That still doesn't explain why one would kill so many others.  When one is so isolated from the rest of divinity, suicide is understandable but why violence towards others?  Even in the dementia that comes from rage and desperation, there is still a kind of rationale, even if it only makes sense to the killer.  To think otherwise is to deny that person's worth.  What did the shooter hope to attain by his actions?

The only answer that I can think of comes from the amazing movie Crash.  In it a character describes feeling so socially isolated that one might intentionally crash into another just to feel the connection.  For one brief moment, as he was impacting the lives of others in the biggest way possible, did he feel more alive?


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