Walter Bruegemann on Covenant As Subversive Paradigm

I feel more than a little bit stupid that I have never seen this article before. Here I am writing my doctoral dissertation on the relevance of covenant in the 21st century church and wondering why I should even bother now, given that Bruegemann has just said pretty much everything I want to say in eight pages.

I remember feeling this way about seventeen years ago when I was trying to articulate my personal theology and came across Emerson’s essay “The OverSoul.” After I read it I felt mighty dumb for having believed that I had ever had one original theological idea. I started divinity school and people would ask me for my Big Statement of Faith, you know, and I just wanted to hand out “The OverSoul” and say, “What he said.”

I still feel that much that way about my BFF Waldo’s essay although my theological ideas have been greatly influenced by becoming a Christian shortly after discovering it. You might wonder why. All I can say is that it was not a conversion experience so much as it was a response to my direct experience of God’s presence in my life and in the world.

I believe that creating a covenant is a way a community can respond to their shared experience of God’s reality and presence.

And I keep reading because frankly kids, I’m terrified to start the writing process!! But I’m presenting a chapter in class next week, so it’s time to put my fingers to the keyboard and produce some thoughts of my very own.


“When In Doubt, Pray. When In Prayer, Have an Existential Crisis.”

Oh for heaven’s sake, what new nonsense is this?

when in prayer doubt

Yet again the Unitarian Universalists are choosing to market themselves as the “faith” for those who are totally ambivalent about whether or not intelligent people should have any faith, and playing the old “we’re not led by creed or doctrine” bit, which is getting SO TIRED. How many 21st century religious individuals mindlessly obey their religious tradition’s doctrines in the first place? Hello, post-modernist angst about the validity of religious institutions and broad eclecticism in personal spiritual practice: not just for unchurched seekers anymore! WHEN will the UUA stop marketing trumpeting unique aspects of our tradition that are incredibly un-unique?

It’s the old definition-by-negation business again, and it assumes that we have no doctrinal, dogmatic attitudes or creedal practices or individuals among us, which of COURSE we do. Just look at how we treat the precious Seven Principles, which have been lifted to quasi-creedal status by many serious UUs (and maybe that’s not such a bad thing). Ech. More terminal uniqueness. Quippy, cutesy crap. Clever wordplay instead of a warm and loving invitation to find us and worship with us.

It would be so much less offensive if Unitarian Universalists weren’t notoriously uncomfortable with the mere notion of prayer and famous for using a long, comma-separated series of euphemisms to introduce That Portion of the Sunday Service During Which We Come Into the Place of Honesty, Or Join Our Spirits In Openness and Compassion, Or Meditate, Or Muse Or Think Good Thoughts Or Even Perhaps Join In (The Spirit Of) Prayer (Because You Musn’t Say ‘Let Us Pray’ For Fear Of Being Run Out Of Town After Coffee Hour, That Is, If You Make It Alive To Coffee Hour).

I’m sorry I used the word “crap” to describe this ad; that’s strong condemnation. But I’m not editing it out. I’m sick and bloody tired of insulting Baptists, Methodists, Muslims, Episcopalians, Catholics, Presbyterians, Mennonites, Orthodox Jews and others whose religious traditions are creedal and doctrinal and who often manage, nevertheless, to have wonderful ministries, whose communities are welcoming and even rebelliously so (how many of you know of renegade Catholic, Episcopal, Presby or Lutheran individuals or parishes that openly welcome and advocate for the g/b/l/t community, for example? I thought so…), and whose life together is a thing of beauty that draws more seekers to find, and stay with them, every year. Those doctrinal, creedal congregations are not necessarily any more dysfunctional or even close-minded than our own non-creedal, non-doctrinal ones. We must stop advertising these aspects of our tradition as if they confer upon us some magical ability to love, to minister, and to support an individual or a family’s search for truth and meaning. They do not.

“When in doubt, pray??” How about,

“All our lives we are in need, and others are in need of us.”*

Join a Unitarian Universalist congregation near you for Sunday worship. We are waiting to welcome you, and to include you in our circle of caring.

“The Unitarian Universalists welcome you to worship with us, and to join in the great work of loving the world.”

“Unitarian Universalism: The search for truth in the spirit of freedom. Don’t walk the path alone: come for Sunday morning worship and stay for community.”

I mean, these aren’t genius or anything, but they took me fifteen seconds to think up and I’m not getting paid for them, if you know what I’m saying.

The best advertising for our tradition, or any tradition, is for our congregations to be healthy communities full of individuals who have a strong sense of ministry and are guided by an ethic of love and covenantal relationship. They should make the news for doing good works in the community, and when people walk through their doors (as they will if they are guided there by spiritual need, not prompted by an ad in Time magazine), they should encounter powerful worship services, quality religious education, well-organized, inclusive pastoral and prophetic ministries, and people with authentic welcome on their lips and in their hearts.

And when they are invited to pray, it should be in the spirit of hope and faith, because why the HELL would anyone who understands the first thing about the Unitarian or the Universalist traditions suggest that prayer and doubt are a wise pairing in the search for truth and meaning?

All right. Rant over. I have a sermon to finish. I’ll leave the rest of the rant or the BangBack to you, my friends.

* quote by George Odell

Training Pastoral Caregivers

When I set out to train a group of lay pastoral caregivers this fall, I wanted to create my own model since I had never seen one that I could entirely go for, even though I had attended numerous workshops on the subject.

Although I read dozens of books on pastoral care. I found these two books to be most helpful in framing my sessions:

A Pastor in Every Pew: Equipping Laity for Pastoral Care
by Leroy Howe
The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning To Listen Can Improve Relationships
by Michael P. Nichols, PhD

I just thought I’d let you know.