Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Question about the non-Christian religions in Unitarian Universalism

At the Newcomers’ Orientation to Membership the other night, we read and discussed the “Sources of Our Living Tradition,” which are in front of the hymnal and which follow the list of UUA Principles.

Question:  How are Islam and other religions included in Unitarian Universalism?  How is Judaism included?  Given that it seems to have origninated as a Protestant Christian movement, where do other world religions fit in?

Well, Judaism is the religious foundation and background of Christianity– geographically, personally (Jesus was a Jew), and scripturally (the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament is much longer than the New Testament, and together they make the Holy Bible of Christianity).  We have been influenced by non-Christian religious, philosophical and ethical traditions through dialogue, cooperative projects and interfaith programs, as well as through the mixing that happens when Muslims, Buddhists, and so on join or attend our congregations, or when we join or participate in groups of non-UU traditions.

I used this analogy:  Think of Unitarian Universalism as a house.  The house’s foundation is the Judeo-Christian tradition, and the architecture of the house looks familiar to those from a Christian upbringing.  No matter what goes on in the house, or how we might add on a room or remodel, the foundation hasn’t changed. Transcendentalism, religious humanism, neo-paganism, Buddhist practice–they all might fill a number of rooms, but the foundation is the same.

The windows of the house are open, allowing breezes of thought, perspectives, new ideas to blow through the house, refreshing us, waking us up, reminding us of the world outside.  This includes arts, natural and social sciences, literature, culture, and even political trends.  We can look out and see it all.  Better yet, we can walk out the door.  We have neighbors.  We can invite them in for meals and conversation, for games and knitting parties and holiday cookouts.  And we can go over to their houses too, enjoying their hospitality, and learning some of the many varieties of being in religions community, and the diversity of spiritual practices and perspectives.  We may end up spending a lot of time in their homes, or welcome neighbors for frequent visits.

We may marry some of our neighbors and live in more than one house.  But where Unitarian Universalism grew up, where it has its foundation, is part of our heritage.

One person said she appreciated this analogy or metaphor.  If you do as well, you can read a book about it.  What I wrote above is a riff on a talk I heard six years ago from the Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, president of Starr King School for the Ministry.  She and the Rev. Dr. John Buehrens (minister in Needham, MA, and former president of the Unitarian Universalist Association) have published A House for Hope:  Our Theological Foundation.

It was the top selling book at the exhibit hall this past June at the UUA General Assembly.  Check it out at the UUA Bookstore.

Mr. President: Don’t Back Down–>Get a Backbone for Religious Freedom and Tolerance

Blessings of the Islamic Holy Month of  Ramadan to you.

I just sent a note to the White House asking the President not to back down from his strong affirmation of religious liberty in the face of fear-mongering and angry rhetoric by those opposed to a new Mosque in Lower Manhattan.  I did this in response to a request by the director of the UUA’s Standing on the Side of Love campaign.  Click this link to see it and to add your voice, if you feel the same.

Site Visit to local organization we support

Every Sunday morning we share half our offering with a local community organization or a Unitarian Universalist agency putting our values into practice.  (The church members nominate agencies and voting members select them at our October congregational meeting for the coming calendar year.)

This month, our community partner is Sacramento’s Center for Community Well Being, which offers health, educational and social services of its Birthing Project Clinic to women during pregnancy and after childbirth.  The Family Minister is organizing a site visit to the Center for this Wednesday and there are still a few places available, so contact him if you are a member who would like to attend.

Thank you for your generosity to the Center for Community Well Being.

PS–today’s sermon will be posted by Thursday, and maybe on the site sooner.

Part 3, or a P.S. on How Religious Education is “Religious”

The Reverend Til Evans is retired from a career as a director of religious education, minister, and professor of UU seminarians at Starr King School for the Ministry.  Now in her late 80s, Til says that whoever we are, when we give time and attention to children in our congregations, we are educating them religiously.  It’s not about giving them facts and concepts. She says that by our actions and by our presence, we’re teaching about relationships, community and love. We’re teaching children and teenagers about their own dignity and worth, and about the value of their own ideas and sources of inspiration.  She adds that when we religiously educate others, we are religiously educating ourselves. We are engaged in the work of transformation, not for those we teach, but with them. We are all changed by what we do together.

–From my 2010 sermon “Joys and Terrors of Religious Education.”

a unison affirmation for Unitarian worship by Wallace W. Robbins (adapted)

Robbins was minister at Unity Church–Unitarian, in St. Paul, Minnesota.  There is a bronze plaque (among printed paper and other items) on which is printed “We dare not fence the spirit.”  This has been adapted by current co-ministers of the church, and was used recently at the annual worship service of the meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association.

Ours is a church, which holds the dead in sacred memory,

and the living in a goodly fellowship.  We desire to live together

in such affection as will not allow us to feel threatened by our differences.

We dare not fence the spirit, nor close off the sincerity of conversation with which souls

must meet in religious association.  As others have their ways of religion, so do we have this

faith; and in honest difference, we order our lives together.

“This Still Room”—a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier

Whittier, a Quaker and abolitionist, was one of New England’s group of “Fireside Poets” of 19th century America.

This Still Room
And so I find it well to come for deeper rest to this still room,
for here the habit of the soul
Feels less the outer world’s control;
For strength of mutual purpose pleads more earnestly our common needs;
And from the silence multiplied
By these still forms on either side,
The world that time and sense have known
Falls off and leaves us God alone.

How Can “Religious Education” Be Religious When We Are Not Talking about “Religion”? –> this is Part 2 of 2

We chose ArtWorks last summer for several reasons.

1)  Art is a great way for kids of different school grades to work together, and for people of all generations of life to relate with one another, in contrast to discussions and lectures. This is how we build connections.

2) We try to develop multicultural awareness and competency here, for the sake of richness as well as our own relevant engagement in a diverse community.  Music and other arts are an obvious way to appreciate a variety of cultural traditions, outlooks, and ways of being.

3)  Many of our church families have erratic attendance patterns in the summer.  This interferes with the continuity of a typical, content-laden lesson we might offer over a few weeks.  (Of course, we still have continuity challenges in the other seasons, given family demands, school and sports activities, and joint-custody families.  Summer is even harder.)   ArtWorks lessons are relatively self-contained, so if you weren’t here last month you didn’t miss any information needed to get something out of a lesson this week.  Yet by starting with a gathering circle, introducing ourselves and

4)  What’s less appealing that being the only 10-year old in a classroom?  With reduced attendance in summer, having a hands-on lesson accessible to multiple ages is a way to have a critical mass in the classroom, and lively energy.  Based on these summer experiences, we now plan some all-community RE Sundays.  For example, on quarterly Community Garden Sunday in RE, various ages work together preparing, planting, and harvesting–and especially wandering and wondering– in the UURTH SONG garden at church, with the leadership of our garden coordinators.   (Next one is September 5.)  Two other times a year we have service projects, such as RE clean-up Sundays, at which we learn about the importance of giving back and of taking care of our shared community.

5)  Many of our adult members are busy in other aspects of church life, so they aren’t free to teach an ongoing course in RE.   A brief summer shift is more accessible to them.  For garden coordinators, For artists, the class preparation is familiar to them, since it relates to their own art and not to an ongoing lesson.  Many of our artists aren’t oriented to traditional “classroom” ways of engaging with religious topics, but they are inherently good at the spirituality of the creative process.  Indeed, through ArtWorks our children get to experience themselves as Creator.  They experience the Spirit of creativity inside themselves, and see the fruits of that Spirit in the results of their work.

6)  As religious liberals we do not see a strict boundary between what is secular and what is spiritual.   This is most obvious in our variety of musical choices.  Some music that is not labeled sacred touches the deepest places in many of us:  classical, folk, rock, new age,  show tunes.  Not ALL musical pieces in those genres, but I bet you can think of one song in each one of them that is inspiring or nourishing or comforting or healing for you.   This applies to all the arts, I think.   How about you?

7)  Art can be a source of personal challenge, experimentation, accomplishment, and a sense of competence and growing confidence.  With the encouragement of our artist/teachers and the help of their peers or older youth, our children learn about giving and receiving help, asking for assistance, and showing encouragement to one another.  And what do the teachers get out of this?  I asked one of our artists how his recent Origami teaching session had gone.  “Oh, I saw a few smiles.  That’s all that I work for!”

We offered ArtWorks again this summer because it was such a success last summer.  Teacher/artists, kid/artists, and parents of artists expressed joy and gratitude.  This year we are adding an art reception August 22.

Our UU forbear, the Rev. Sophia Lyon Fahs (1876-1978), was an innovator of experience-based Religious Education. That’s what we do with ArtWorks, to be sure, but it’s what the whole life of the congregation is about.  Experience-based religious learning and spiritual growth. In line with her, a leading Christian religious educator, John Westerhoff, says that “faith is caught, not taught.”

The way that children learn about religious values and tradition is through experience as a full participants in their religious community.  What aspects of community life can you think of?  When you think of one, think about what a person (child or adult) might learn about their church, themselves, or life by participating.

Attending worship is one way we do this, whether it’s for a whole service (which happens 9 Sundays a year) or for the first 15 minutes of a regular, before the children, youth and volunteer leaders depart for their RE.   Social or fellowship activities (like dinners, parties, or a weekend all-church camp), service projects, public-witness demonstrations, parades and Martin Luther King Day marches, prayer vigils, talent shows, concerts, and memorial services.

What do you think of this?  What have I left out?  What ideas does this generate?  Your comments to this blog are very welcome.  Meanwhile, I think I hear the theme to Cheers playing in my head!