Friday, August 19, 2011

It's No Wonder...

Almost two weeks ago, a blogger going by "Wondertwisted" wrote a blog post titled A 'Dear John' Letter to Unitarian Universalism.  (Her real name appears to be "Cindy" based on the responses to the post, but since I'm a Cindy, that's confusing, so we'll call her "WT.")  In her post, WT outlines the reasons why she's leaving Unitarian Universalism.  The blog post immediately got a lot of my colleagues talking about it, mostly on Facebook as they posted up the piece.  I've been thinking about WT's post since then, and am still not really ready to put out a full response, but here goes for a bit anyway.

I understand what it is my colleagues are saying when they are sympathizing with Wondertwisted.  They see in her post a desire for a deeper spiritual experience in Unitarian Universalism.  It's connected to the "Language of Reverence" discussions that went around a few years ago and the "Whose Are We" discussions the UUMA has started.  The recent UU World piece by David Bumbaugh articulated this neatly, as well. 

I also understand the yearning for a Unitarian Universalism that is more embracing of its Christian past.  I serve a church with a high percentage of UU Christians, and I'm the child of UU Christians, and I think it's very important to create a religious atmosphere in UU churches that is welcoming and embracing of UU Christians.  And I know that there are UU churches where UU Christians have felt the atmosphere to be hostile to their beliefs.  I've heard this from a family member, for one thing.  I've worked hard to discourage this kind of attitude whenever I've seen it.  And I know some see in WT an articulating of how hostile our churches can sometimes be.

I read Wondertwisted a little differently, however.  First of all, I'd like to say that while I want Unitarian Universalism to grow, I don't envision a world wherein everyone becomes Unitarian Universalist.  It's well and good that people are different religions--I like religious diversity in the world.  So I don't mourn that UCC members are members of the UCC and not the UUA.  That's great that the UCC is there and that we have so much in common with them.  And I think UU churches are sometimes a stopping point for religious wanderers on their way to somewhere else.  That's okay with me, too.  Not everybody who walks through our doors is really going to find that Unitarian Universalism is what that person is looking for.  And a lot of what people are looking for and not finding in our church is something a lot more Christian than what we are. 

So there are UU Christians and there are UUs who are not Christian and there are Christians who are not UU.  And it's good that there are all these categories.

I think Wondertwisted may be, as she describes herself, a "Unitarian Christian," but she's not a UU Christian, and it's great that she's figured that out and gone off to somewhere where they are more Christian and maybe less Unitarian, but more what she's looking for.  Let me explain.

It's comes down to this passage:
I was at a UU leadership function. I met a really smart, really energetic and sweet guy. The kind of guy that any church elder or pastor would love to recruit onto the board. He volunteered his path to me: “I’m a Buddhist-Humanist,” he said. Then he took a swig of fair trade coffee while I told every particle of my being that, no, I would NOT roll my eyes.

You can’t be a Buddhist-Humanist. You just can’t.
Here's the thing: Yes, you can.  And that's part of what Unitarian Universalism is about.  She says, "Be a Buddhist or a Humanist and do the work, because I suspect that claiming a hybrid philosophy might have something to do with wanting to be “spiritual” without the messy work of transformation."  But sometimes "doing the work" of theology is in studying and understanding multiple religious traditions and understanding that each of them have to be adapted in some way to fit with one's own spiritual beliefs.  I know there are critics of Building Your Own Theology out there, but I think it had a lot of things right.  In Unitarian Universalism we do pick and choose and create hybrid theologies.  And in many cases this is because we have "done the work" -- a lot more so than your average non-hybrid-believer.  By way of example, a recent Pew study showed that atheists know a lot more about religion than the average believer. 

It's frankly very easy to see how a UU can be a Buddhist-Humanist.  Those two faith traditions have a lot in common.  And neither Buddhism nor Humanism is a dead, unchanging, ungrowing thing.  They both have flexibility in them.  But one who sees the definitions of Humanism or Buddhism as so rigid that one can't find a home in both?  Well, it's not surprising to me to hear that person doesn't feel at home in Unitarian Universalism.

Not everyone is comfortable with ambiguity, with gray areas, with the lack of rigid definitions, of course.  I often say that what makes UU Christians and UU Buddhists and UU Pagans and UU Humanists all UU is that we all believe we don't have all of the answers, and that we can learn from one another.  We believe in the value of coming together in religious diversity and sharing our religious journeys. 

So blessings on your journey, Wondertwisted.  I'm glad you've figured out where your religious home is.  And it's okay that it's not us. 

6 comments:

Nana said...

Good work, Cynthia.
Nana'

Cynthia Landrum said...

Thanks, Nana'. I really agreed with what you said on my Facebook thread on the subject (http://www.facebook.com/RevCyn/posts/230881106948777), as well.

Joel Monka said...

Very well written. When people ask me how there can be more than one faith or truth, I give them the analogy of the heart- everyone's heart works the same way, but your heart won't work in my chest without anti-rejection drugs, and even then many fail. Our hearts- and our truths- are our own.

Michael D. Fay said...

"What finally convinced me to leave? A lot of things, including the nagging feeling that UUism lost it’s religious heart to political liberalism a long, long time ago."

Amen sister. I'm an estranged Unitarian (notice I didn't add Universalist). As a marginal liberal Christian and a Marine who's deployed multiple times to the Global War on Terror I eventually parted ways with the UU Fellowship where I was on the board, the religious education committee, the annual fund raising committee and chaired the mission statement committee. I was tired of referring gay Christian friends (from AA) to the fellowship, and having them report back to me that key members, although accepting of their homosexuality, told them UUs weren't Christians,but primarily atheists and humanists. I was fed up with Joys and Concerns being dominated by Bush Lied, People Died political rants. By trying to embrace anything and everything, the UU movement has managed to become directionless. Somehow the religion without dogma, suddenly finds itself unconsciously as dogmatic as any evangelical Christian denomination.

Tim Bartik said...

You are right to criticize WT's point about Buddhism and humanism.

But I don't think that UUs should dismiss her larger point that UU churches frequently don't meet people's needs for dealing somehow with "salvation" and "transcendence". WT specifically says she was looking for salvation in the here and now, and did not find that this was something that UU churches wanted to address.

As if to confirm WT's point, one of the commenters on her blog said that "UUs don't believe souls need to be saved." This reflects a misinterpretation of the human need for somehow figuring out how to better relate to THIS world and THIS universe.

Rev. Dan said...

Thank you for your comments. As the pastor of a progressive Christian MCC congregation, your comment about being a Unitarian Christian, but not a UU Christian, has helped me clarify my recent move from being trinitarian to unitarian universalist in my basic beliefs about God, Jesus, and the concept of salvation--although I am pretty sure I would be considered an "old school" UU.

While I enjoy learning about other belief systems, and believe we can all learn from one another, I tend to be one of those people who needs a focal point for my faith, while learning from others. At this time in my life, that focal point is the life and teachings of Jesus as Jewish Sage and Mystic--not God on a Rescue Mission.

Thanks again,
Dan