January 26, 2009

Are “UUism” and “Depth” Antonyms?

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:19 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

The Panel on UU Lay Education has begun a conversation about depth in UU theology. See this site:  http://uulte.blogspot.com/2009/01/what-is-more-what-is-deeper.html

It is an essential question, what would UU depth look like, and deeper than that, is UU depth even possible? I was first challenged with this question at least fifteen years ago when a UU friend of mine began to become more explicitly Christian. When I asked him about it he told me, “UUism has great breadth, but I needed depth.”

For my friend spiritual and theological depth went hand and hand. Perhaps the first step then in developing theological depth’ is to distinguish it from ‘spiritual depth’ and clarifiy the purpose of theology. In my nomenclature spirituality has to do more with feeling and intuition, theology more to do with clarity of language and integrity of thinking, but it may not be so for everyone.

One of our perennial problems is that we are rather fuzzy on the use of religious language. We often borrow and reinterpret words from traditional Christianity, and sometimes from Hinduism or Native American traditions, but with little clarity about what they mean traditionally and we give them rather vague and fuzzy definitions for our own use. Instead, theological depth demands clarity of language.

We need to be clearer about why we are seeking “depth” in order to determine how to get it. I think one of the goals that may be behind this drive for theological education in a UU context is to gain an ability to respond to family members, co-workers, and people in our communities who speak so assuredly of God or Truth or the Bible. Instead of responding with vague questions we need to know which questions to ask, and were to go with responses to our questions. But this purpose is different than engaging with depth in interfaith conversation or spiritual direction for our people.

I have lots more to say about theological depth, but this is enough for now.

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January 13, 2009

The Green Eyed Bible

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 8:24 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

Imagine you are in your Doctor’s office, waiting; you forgot to bring anything to read, you find all the games on your cell phone boring, and there is no one to talk to.  On the table next to you it looks like there are a couple of magazines. One has a glossy photo of a green eye the skin beneath it heavy with makeup, the background black, the cheek and brow of its face is brilliant white.

The magazine’s title is “The Book” and it advertises “A Good Investment- page 95,” “All Power Comes to an End- page 193,” “Questions About Marriage- Page 187” and “If Love Gets Cold -page 260.”

You open randomly to two pages: a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. on one side and Angelina Jolie on the other. You turn again to a double page photo spread. The photo of a woman in forigen clothing giving birth, the hands of other women about her with many colored bangels on their arms. In the lower right the text “Noojahan gives birth to her first child, Jahis Mohammed. It was a difficult delivery… Noorjahan was lucky to be in the district hospital for the birth, Orissa, India.” On the right the phrase “Eight Ways to Change the World.” Yet the next pages are all text, as it turns out from the begining of The Gospel of Luke, free of chapter and verse numbers.

In fact this is not a magazine but a creative packaging of the Christian Bible (New Testament.) My wife gave me this as one of my gifts for Christmas. I had fun looking at all the photos set next to, and in tension with, the Biblical text.
Creative, wild, thought provoking, disturbing, inspiring and very interesting.

Two Examples: 1) a photo of a dog on a red velvet pillow in the back seat of a car with a gold necklace in the shape of a dollar sign, and the text from Paul’s letter to the Romans “They say they are wise but they are fools. instead of woshpping the immortal God, they worship images made to look like mortals or birds or animals or reptiles.” 2) Three young black men in urban gangsta poses and the text of the Magi from Matthew’s Gospel “Where is the baby born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star when it came up in the east, and we have come to worship him.”

For more information to to <<http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97537385>&gt;

January 8, 2009

The End of Transcending Mystery and Wonder?

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 3:16 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

This week the UUA board will decide whether to place the Commission on Appraisal’s (COS)proposed changes to Article 2, the famed “principles and purposes.”  If you have not read the Commission’s report you can find it here <<http://www25.uua.org/coa/>&gt; along with links to the Board’s agenda, etc.  (By the way, I love the transparency of the Board Agenda.  Anyone can read the reports they will be reading and know the issues they will need to discuss.  I will work with my Board to be as open and well organized. )

It is very striking that no change whatsoever has been proposed to the seven principles.  We seem to like those just as they are.  Other sections have been reworded in some ways and reordered.

However, we are facing major change in the language of the “sources” section of the bylaws.  In 1961 all references to sources were part of the principles.  One sign of the genius of the 1985 rewrite was the separation of these statements into two paragraphs, principles and  sources (and strangely confusing the sources with the oft forgotten “purposes” in common practice.)

Now the sources section is to be turned from a six point list into three paragraphs.  The first is a summary of our Christian (and Jewish) roots.  This reflects our decades long process of reclaiming our historical roots and, in my humble estimation, that is good.  Some persons may be shocked that the statement includes  “God” twice, but if they have not made some peace with this word yet, this is their chance.  That train has left the station and all one can do now is jump off or wait very long for the next station.

The second paragraph is a dryly worded summary list of all our other sources, including our non-creedal stance.  It does list “direct experience of mystery, wonder, beauty and joy’ as sources.  It also includes “the creative power of the arts” along with “the guidance of reason and the lessons of the sciences.”  The paragraph is not dull, but it is not poetic either. I understand some of the reasons for going this way but my first reaction was that I really miss the dynamic theological language of the older statement including: the entire “transcending mystery and wonder” section, the entire “words and deeds” section, the phrase “heed the guidance of reason and the results of science,” the phrase “idolatries of the mind and spirit,”  as well as “to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.”  I would have liked new poetry.  I am certain that there will be come controversy about this at GA.

The final paragraph warns us against misuse of cultural practices.  Much has been said about this section elsewhere, basically that this warning is not clear as to exactly what it refers, and thus could easily be used in unsavory ways by purists of all sorts.

My guess is that if this statement of sources is adopted as is (which is very unlikely) it will be supplemented by many new attempts to creatively rewrite new versions of the old statement.  I don’t know if this is best, that our poetic work is done outside of Association Bylaws.  If so it would be like the flaming chalice, never mentioned in any bylaws yet the practice and words of chalice lighting have developed on their own into a rich and largely unquestioned element of our tradition.  Should our statements be likewise?

No matter what, every UU should read the proposal so as to understand the actions of the Board and the resulting conversation and action at General Assembly and wonder, is this the end of UU churches affirming that our faith draws from “direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life?”