|Comment of the Day by John Halstead, who contributes,
Thank you for this thoughtful contribution. I absolutely agree with everything you say and love your suggestion for a commitment to specificity and depth in pagan worship. I would attend every one of the rituals you listed – even as a Christian UU I would be there because those services sound deep, powerful and theologically well-informed. To be a Unitarian Universalist is to be committed to the possibility that wisdom and transcendence can come from a variety of sources. I think we all become jaded and bitter when we try to live in that faith but too often experience worship services that reflect no deep wisdom or transcendent power.
The only thing I would challenge in your comment, or just invite us to consider more deeply, is the idea that if UU worshipers are offended by an element of a worship service (or, in fact, its entire focus) they should stick around to get their own needs met next week.
My concern with this attitude is both pastoral and programmatic: I believe we must pursue a ministry together that asks more of our members than that. I believe that asking people to be good sports, hold their breath and suffer through the worship styles or elements that they don’t personally resonate with is to perpetuate immaturity and petulance among us. We should make liturgical understanding part of our religious education efforts, in the faith that with understanding comes reconciliation and healing. We must expect each Unitarian Universalist to do the inner work necessary to get beyond their own restless eye-rolling reactions to theologies they don’t personally resonate with, and to tranquil non-attachment.
There is a connected institutional consideration: by encouraging people to ignore or merely tolerate what they don’t like and to “wait their turn,” liturgically speaking, we pander to the individualistic, consumer mentality that the Church exists to question, challenge and reject. Church is not a product that one chooses and then purchases, and worship is not an event that one attends as a spectator and then reviews as one would a movie or play. We need to preach covenantal theology, a theology that proclaims that we have been called by the Spirit out of the self-absorbed shallows of the consumer culture to become a people, God’s people, if you will. The covenant tradition teaches us that it is not we who choose to attend worship services based on what the program, but we who are chosen by God to embody and incarnate the shalom, wholeness, peace, and mutual love. In Humanist terms, we might say that it is life’s longing for itself that draws us out out of our separate dwellings to take strength, solace and inspiration from gathering around the common hearth fire.
In this covenantal framework, people do not merely tolerate the readings, hymns, dances, and rituals that constitute one week’s worship and wait impatiently for their favorite flavor or worship to appear back on the menu, they consider each Sunday a sacred hour of spiritual expression to which they obligated to bring their most generous heart and mind. This is not to say that we do not continue to strive for excellence in our offerings, it is a call to re-orient ourselves to a covenantal, rather than a consumeristic, understanding of theological pluralism and its expression in worship,
Thanks again for your comment, John.