Picking up where I left off yesterday, I want to continue to clarify my thinking on the missional church in Unitarian Universalism.
It has come time for Unitarian Universalists to admit that we have honored free thought over love as an institutional commitment, and to consider the possibility that our obsession with personal freedom of belief has caused our organizations spiritual harm. We have developed a congregational culture that honors intellectual dominance over love and tenderness. We are brilliantly conversant when voicing opinion, but do not know how to engage each other as vulnerable persons in need of hope, grace and healing, leaving it to the self-identified victims in our congregations to motivate and then control most discussion of what it means to love, to welcome and to accept.
Small group ministries have done some good to address this imbalance, but the continued insistence on many UUs to frame our deepest institutional problems according to false dichotomies informs me that our congregations and our association need to work harder to dismantle the idolatry of mind and intellect in our movement. Those of us who want to confront this idolatry are perpetually accused of having a “side” that we are on, a false and ignorant reading of this conversation.
Most of us –especially those of us who were born and raised UU — are both mystical and rational, interested in a variety of religious perspectives and practices (I, for instance, am a Tarot card-reading Christian with Jewish heritage and read Buddhist and Christian meditation manuals interchangably), and are highly educated. We know that Unitarian Universalism is a thoroughly Humanist religious tradition and find it exceedingly irritating to be anxiously quizzed on this point again and again and again.
Wherever we are theologically, missional UUs know that it is time for us to question our idolatry of the mind and of opinion, an idolatry that leads us to immature communal spirit, exhausting and interminable group process, and increasing irrelevance in the contemporary world. Â Our minds are not infallable guides, and our intellects do not comprise the totality of what makes humanity great (or great in potential if not in actuality).
Our obsession with free thought and “building our own theology” has encouraged UUs to participate in religious conversation from a place of debate rather than discernment. When each individual UU is obligated (or invited) to create their own religion, therefore it follows that each individual has to defend their own religion. All of which we do with great gusto, endlessly, shaping our religious identity around these debates and failing to realize how deeply dull they are to people who come to our churches seeking sustaining faith and spiritual community. Our societies attract debaters and defenders — people who love a good argument — while repelling those who are interested in less aggressive ways of connecting.
As a pastor and a woman, I am offended by the framing of these issues as “head vs heart.” It is another false dichotomy and does damage in our congregations and our ministry of both lay and ordained. I resent the idea that being led from the heart comes easily to me as a woman — it does not, neither by nature or by nurture — it is something that I have cultivated through years of disciplined and difficult spiritual practice. I do not expect any of my co-religionists to easily loosen their death grip on the confident feeling derived from being intellectually superior or terminally unique in the religious sense. Â We are addicted to this feeling and have created an identity based on it. It unites us. It is the unacknowledged foundation our social justice commitments. It is the reason we steer clear of deep ecumenism.
Nor do I expect the debate lovers to stop their debating. They are devoted to it, it is their spiritual practice, and they should be encouraged to keep at it as long as it feeds them intellectually and emotionally. What I hope for, wish for, and work for, is a Unitarian Universalism that more intentionally makes a place for unexamined reverence, love, humility, deep listening, crying, grieving, laying down the burden of trying to know and understand and explain and control everything, acceptance at the heart level, solidarity rather than paternalism and dominance, and faith. I call for a Unitarian Universalism that respects the soul and does not argue it, or ask it to explain or account for itself.
And I want someday for those of us who want to cultivate reverence, humility and soul to stop being categorized and dismissed as pissed off Christians who want to take over the UUA. On behalf of myself, my Christian, Humanist, Buddhist, Jewish, Pagan, Atheist, Transcendentalist and Other Unitarian Universalist kindred spirits who know exactly what I am talking about and who grieve the same insanity that I am grieving, I want to state that this is another ignorant prejudice that needs to be exposed and eradicated.
The emotional culture in too many of our congregations is thoroughly toxic. We need to recognize that it is, why it is, and move beyond, “Well, my friends and I like it this way” if we are to be a viable religious movement for the 21st century.