Unitarian Universalism

Living Spirituality

For our interfaith dialogue discussion topic last night, the question was "How does your spirituality affect your life?"

That immediately begs the question, what is spirituality?  Is it the beliefs of our religions?  Is it the ritual/spiritual practice?  Is it simply that mystical feeling of connectedness with the divine?  Often times, I hear people use "spirituality" to refer to the stuff they like and "religion" to mean the stuff they don't like.  But even if we reject that simplistic dichotomy, which I do, it seems there is a real difference between "religion" and "spirituality."

How does your spirituality affect your life?

As a Unitarian Universalist, the most obvious way that spirituality affects my life is in the commitment to social justice.  Believing in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, or to put it in Christian terms as did William Ellery Channing, believing that we are made in the likeness or image of God, it means that every person must be respected.  But more than just freedom from oppression, our theology calls for society to provide a nurturing environment for everyone. If we, like God, have the capacity to discern the good, the right, the just, then every person has potential to blossom to his or her full capacity if given the right environment. To withhold that nurturance would be to limit Godliness.

Another way in which spirituality affects my life is in the practice of reflection upon our actions. Spirituality for me means the practice of reflection, action, reflection, action. Praxis. And this is particularly important for those of us who work for justice because we are so often interacting with people who are opposed to us.  It would be easy to slip into an "us versus them" mentality, to forget what you are for and be merely about what you are against. Spiritual reflection helps keep us in the "for."  It reminds us that whatever we choose to do, how we get to the goal is as important as getting there - maintaining right relations.

I've heard some people say that they really like the openness of Unitarian Universalism, but do not see the need to join any type of (semi)organized religion. For me, being part of a community is an integral part of spirituality, as is the spiritual practice of praxis that communal UU encourages.  Spirituality is not the beliefs or rituals, or even the "feeling of connectedness;" it is living compassion, purpose and meaning.   One doesn't have to be a UU to live spiritually, of course, but being part of the UU community does affect my life, every day.

Counter-culture Revisited

The confluence of an email from the A/PIC listserve and a conversation with Taquiena have me thinking about this topic again.

Someone on the A/PIC listserve writes to ask "Why are UUs so white?" (especially given that we promote racial equality) and invites our responses.

I started off with my standard response: Read Rosemary Bray McNatt's essay in Soul Work, where she points out the difference between saying that we are welcoming and actually being welcoming, which includes the willingness to be changed by those whom you invite in. She talks about how UU culture is for the most part white culture, and people of color are invited to join as long as they can deal with that.

But then I thought I needed to let this sit and marinate for a while. Other thoughts were in the back of my mind that had yet to gel. Something Taquiena said this evening reminded me of one of those thoughts, which I've touched on before. Speaking in very general terms of course, I have the impression that a lot of white UUs join UU in order to "be different" whereas that's not the case with UUs of color, I don't think. And I think it might explain several trends.

For one, I think this might be part of the reason why PoC UUs seem to be more "evangelical" than white UUs (not to say that there aren't exceptions on all sides). I suspect that for a lot of white UUs (certainly not all), they would be perfectly happy to believe that "UU isn't for everyone." Translation: it's a religion for the elite - for those who are cool enough to be "counter-culture." Whereas for PoCs, it's like "Hey look at this wonderful thing I've found. It helps me; maybe it can help you too.

As I said in the previous post:

I come to UU to be part of something greater, to have the power to make the world better, not just to be "different." I can be different all on my own.

And this speaks to another difference I've noticed. It seems to me that there are two different populations within UU (only two you ask?) - true liberals, who are attracted to our social justice work within the prophetic tradition, and libertarians, who are attracted to the non-conformist aspect of UU and are upset by our social witness. I'll bet money that you won't find many "libertarian" UUs of color.

For UUs of color and for our white allies, the social justice component of UU is essential, not just a hobby or a nice idea. If UUs in their mostly white congregations really want more racial/ethnic diversity, they also have to show that their commitment to racial/cultural equality is real.

i thank You God for most this amazing day

i thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes (i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth day of life and love and wings:and of the gay great happening illimitably earth) how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any--lifted from the no of all nothing--human merely being doubt unimaginable You? (now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

- e e cummings

Who are UU?

I mentioned a few weeks ago that the Pew Forum released the results of a comprehensive survey they had done on religious faith in the U.S. Lots of people have been talking about it - at work, online... In particular, atheists seemed (understandably) pleased because their numbers had gone up substantially.

For my part, the report just gave hard numbers to back up what I already knew - lots of diversity and fluidity. Perhaps too much so. And then I moved on.

But Rev. David Gillespie did the hard work of actually wading through the numbers on the demographics of UUs (or thereabouts), and posted it on his blog. So who are UUs?

Assuming the numbers are accurate, here are some of the more surprising results:

51% of us are under the age of 50 and 16% of us are over 65.

I think the reason why the former stat surprises me is because that's not what I see when I go to General Assembly or district meetings.

almost 1/2 of us are not college graduates; while 30% have post-graduate degrees

Shocking. The former stat makes me wonder whether the numbers accurately reflect us.

Unfortunately, some things were not at all surprising:

without doubt, we are one of the whitest groups around (beat out I think by the Greek Orthodox) with a whopping 88% identifying as caucasian and only 2% as black (interestingly, 4% as Latino and 5% as mixed racial background).

I found it hard to believe there are twice as many Latino UUs as black UUs, so I went to the report. Yup, there it was. David forgot to mention, 2% Asian.

In terms of whiteness, we are beat out by Greek Orthodox at 95%, Jews at 95%, and Mainline Protestants at 91%. We are on par with the Mormons, who come in at 86%. Given that when I think Mormon, I think "white," that's not saying much for us.

People Are Strange

Steven Waldman, editor-in-chief of Beliefnet, made a stir in UU circles by mentioning our name in public. (Are your ears burning?) Our collective chests are just a little bit bigger since he called the Founding Fathers "militant Unitarians."

Here's the quote:

But if I had to pick a religion, I’d say they were sort of militant Unitarians. In other words, they had rejected or become uncomfortable with key parts of Christian doctrine and institutional behavior but they did believe in an active God, who intervened in their lives and the lives of the nation.

Which got me to thinking: I understand the Unitarian part pretty easily. Many of our Founding Fathers, products of the Enlightenment, had issues with things that didn't seem to be rational, like the trinity. Like the idea that a human being can be GOD. So no trinity. A unity, instead. Perhaps God, the Father.

But what did Mr. Waldman mean by "militant"? The first thing that comes to mind is soldiers, fighting, war military aggression. The second thought is still a kind of aggression - strident, unyielding, in-your-face - a lot of political activists come to mind.

Our Founding Fathers were certainly militant about some things, like the revolution, and equality (for all land-owning white men). But the context in which Mr. Waldman said it makes it sound like they were militant about their Unitarianism.

Militant about the use of reason in religion?

Militant about freedom of conscience?

Militant about the inherent worth of humanity?

vMilitant about a God who intervenes on the side of justice?

 

Or maybe Walden meant something like the Unitarian Jihad. :p

O you whose spirit bears witness

O you, whose spirit bears witness, we gather in all stages of life, and all manner of life to face our highest ideals, and to be comforted. May the least among us be able to become empowered, ultimately drink from the wellsprings of prosperity, and hope. May those who have been rejected be embraced with wide open arms. May we be reminded that we are co-creators with you in establishing the realm of heaven, of peace, joy, and liberation so that others may have life. In the name of the still speaking, still evolving one. Amen by Shawn Koester (as Kwana Rosca) given on December 13th, 2007 at the UU Church of Second Life

Why We Are Non-Creedal

Another thing that came up at the "Now is the Time" conference, surprisingly, was creedalism. One of the participants, in his desire to spread the good news of Unitarian Universalism to people of color, argued that we should do away with our wishy-washy "noncreedalism" - that this type of moral relativism would turn off PoCs who's realities tell them that not all views are equally valid. He argued that it was time we UUs took up a creed and suggested our Seven Principles.

I went up to him and adamantly defended our non-creedalism. (We parted on good terms.) Actually, I agreed with him whole-heartedly about being against moral relativism, which is, I think, a superficial, "feel-good" stance reserved only for those who have never experienced oppression. But creedalism is not the answer. There is a world of difference between saying that all views are equally valid and saying that there is only one right one, which is what creedalism does. I want to be somewhere in between those two extremes.

Not all views are equally valid. Some are in fact quite harmful. Unitarian Universalism does NOT say that you can believe whatever you want. NO. But UU does explicitly affirm "acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth" (our third principle), "a free and responsible search for truth and meaning" (our fourth principle), and "the right of conscience" (our fifth principle). All of these assert that there is no single correct Truth - something that people must agree upon before they can be in community with us.

And that is what a creed is; it's an assertion of "Truth" that others must accept in order to be part of the religious community." The Nicene Creed. The Apostles' Creed. They are a test about "correct beliefs" to see who gets into the club and who doesn't. For us to say we are creedal would be to say that we don't accept people for who they are, we don't encourage them to grow and search for truth (because, after all, we already have it), and we deny the right of conscience. Right of conscience is like one of the cornerstones of UU, imo.

If we are to take our Seven Principles seriously, we cannot have a creed. Our universalism is quite clear and demanding on this subject. If for some reason a skinhead or a Nazi came through our doors wanting to be in relationship with us, then we are in relationship with him or her. We can unequivocally reject his/her racist beliefs and forbid their expression within our walls, for the sake of our other members. But we cannot reject the person.

Unitarian Universalism has no creed.

Majority Minority

While visiting Pasadena, I'm staying with my friend Phoebe in her house in Temple City.  The towns south of Pasadena - Alhambra, Monterey Park, and San Gabriel - are notable for their high concentration of Asians.  (Monterey Park is over 55% Chinese.)  If you want good Chinese food in L.A., you don't go to Chinatown; you go to Alhambra and Monterey Park.  To the east in San Gabriel and Temple City, I noticed that there is more of a mixture of Asians and Latino/Hispanics.  Neighbors with straight dark hair and varying shades of tan skin living side by side.  

Driving northward towards Pasadena, I saw a blonde woman in sportswear walking her terrier and was surprised.  "What's she doing here?" I wondered.  The wonder lasted less than a second before I remembered that this is after all the U.S. and it was she who was the norm here, not me.  Still, however silly, the experience of surprise was something that I wanted to record and share.

Before heading over to the start of the A/PIC conference at Throop Memorial Church, I spent the day hanging out with old friends and visiting the Norton Simon Museum of Art.  What I remember about the Norton Simon is its fabulous collection of 19th and 20th century Western art - sculptures by Rodin and Moore, paintings by Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee and Degas.  What I did not remember about the museum was the even more impressive collection of Asian art - room after room of stunning bodhisattvas showcased beautifully.  How could I not remember this?  Guess I was not in the right frame of mind to appreciate it before.

As the A/PIC conference started, I met new friends, and as old friends started to trickle in I was struck by how moved I was to see them.  I call them "old friends" but really, some I've only known since last year and only for the few days of the conference.  But I was just so happy to be there.  So grateful.

And grateful for the generosity of Throop Memorial Church for opening it's doors to us.  As Rev. Clyde Grubbs explained the history of Throop Memorial and how Amos Throop was also responsible for founding Caltech, I let out an audible gasp.  For over six years I had studied at Caltech, much of that time searching for a more spiritual life, never knowing its connection to Unitarian Universalism.  It was as if the Spirit were telling me: see, this is where you were meant to be all along.

Kick-Ass Gravel Vid

How many of you guys know that there is a UU running for president? I didn't at first. I had even filled out a little quiz that would tell me which candidates most closely matched my own positions on the issues and the results came back:

1. Mike Gravel
2. Dennis Kucinich
3. Barack Obama

And I thought, "Who the heck is Mike Gravel?" It turns out that Gravel is a former senator of Alaska, and a UU. That isn't enough to cause me to vote for him. But it's certainly enough to cause me to pay attention to what he does. And what he's done recently is release a kick-ass commercial on YouTube.

Seven Principles Calendar

Seven liturgical "seasons" (with some down-time in December and summer) in observance of our Seven Principles. Each season is associated with one of the colors of the rainbow. During each season, stories are told about our Unitarian Universalist tradition... people who said "Yes" when the Spirit called them to action.  (Other established UUobservances are included even if they do not necessarily fit the theme.)

This calendar is a work in progress, meant to be revised by the experiences and insights of the UU community.  Adopt/adapt as much or as little as you find useful and please provide suggestions in the wizdUUm discussion forums.


3rd Principle
Free and Responsible Search for Truth and Meaning

(from late Sept to late Oct)

John Murray preaches universalism for the first time in the U.S. (Sept 30th)

Indigenous People's Day (Oct 8th)

The Start of OWL

4th Principle
Acceptance of One Another and Encouragement to Spiritual Growth

(from late Oct to late Nov)

Transgender Day of Remembrance (Nov 20)

UUSC's Guest at Your Table (Sunday before Thanksgiving)

How Kwanzaa came to be (12/26/04 to 1/1/05)

1st Principle
Inherent Worth & Dignity of Every Person

(from mid Jan to mid Feb)

Standing on the Side of Love's 30 Days of Love

from Martin Luther King Jr's Birthday (January 15)

to Valentine's Day (February 14)

2nd Principle
Justice, Equity & Compassion in Human Relations

(from mid Feb to late March)

Waitstill & Martha Sharp sail for Nazi-occupied Europe (observed 3rd Sunday in Feb)

Anniversary of March from Selma (March 7th - observed 1st Sunday in March)

Martyrdom of Rev. James Reeb and Ms. Viola Liuzzo (observed 2nd Sunday in March)

UUSC's Justice Sunday (observed 3rd Sunday in March)

7th Principle
The Interdependent Web of Existence

(from late March to late April)

Climate Justice Month

from World Water Day (March 22)

to Earth Day (April 22)

6th Principle
World Community with Peace, Liberty, and Justice for All

(from late April to late May)

Birthday of Laura Towne (May 3rd)

Julia Ward Howe founds Mother's Day (2nd Sunday in May)

Stories of Clara Barton and Dorthea Dix

5th Principle
The Right of Conscience and the Use of the Democratic Process

(from late May to late June)

Women's Rights Convention of Seneca Falls & Rochester - Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Lucy Stone ()

General Assembly

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