February 27, 2009

Viva La Mexico!

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:54 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

So I was wandering around in my WordPress dashboard when I noticed that someone had linked to my page from somewhere in Mexico.  So I checked out the link and found the Libre Congregacion Unitaria de Mexico.  If that was not cool enough they had translated one of my sermons, “No Immaculate Conception” into Spanish.  How cool is that?  I know some Spanish, enough to get into trouble, as the saying goes, but I could never have done that sort of translation.  Now I can preach one of my sermons totally in Espanol (sorry, but I don’t know how to blog with Spanish accents yet.)

The Mexican Unitarians had even added illustrations.  Wow. I had never thought to add visual elements to my web works.  The translator had added hyperlinks into my text, such as a link to an English language biography of James Luther Adams.   They included links to my Muncie UU website, the photo (now old) from that site, as well as links to my WordPress blog.  I did not know any of this had been done, but as long as they give credit where credit is do I think the whole thing is very, very cool.

As they say at the top of the site: El amor es la doctrina de esta iglesia, La búsqueda de la verdad su sacramento, Y el servicio es su oración.

February 13, 2009

Off the Deep End

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:15 am by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

This is the third in a series on theological depth.  (see: http://http//uulte.blogspot.com/2009/01/what-is-more-what-is-deeper.html)

My favorite story about UU lay theological education comes from the parents of a child in the church I now serve.  She was about ten and playing on the playground at school when another child came up to her and said with accusation in her voice, “Do you believe in God?”  The UU child responded “Which one?”

A conservative theological education is usually about learning the difference between the right way and the wrong way, sometimes the many wrong ways.  On the other hand a liberal theological education is about understanding something of the many paths.  It has been wonderful to hear the President of the United States say, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers.”  The UU Child had learned this basic lesson of religious diversity that the more conservative child had not learned; there are many ideas about God, and we can be a nation, one people, despite this diversity.  UUs should be the leaders in our nation and world on this matter, but instead we have been sidelined by a tendency to avoid God language all together.

I have long asserted that the key question before UUs is not “is there a God” but “what can we know of God?”  As ‘Unitarians’ we naturally assert a fundamental unity to absolute reality.  But how to summon that unity that is both inclusive and has integrity?  If the UU child were asked “Do you believe in the Christian God?” Would our child be able to distinguish between the God of Hell and Damnation and the God of Universal salvation?  Would he or she be able to ask if the other is interested in the God of rules and discipline, or the God of the free Spirit that is bread and joy to the world?  Would the UU child be able to explain that the one ultimate God is beyond anyone’s ability to know and thus there are many faces we give to the divine?  Would he or she be able to say that the ultimate truth is seen as clearly by those who see only grace in the natural forces of the universe as by those who know God as Krishna, or the resurrected Jesus?

There is one man in my congregation who has drifted over to the Anglican church and then back to our UU congregation.  The center-point of his religious journey was in a very dynamic and liberal Catholic church.  There he developed a very personal relationship with God.  He also found loving inclusion of him as one of many gay and lesbian people.  When he came to Indiana he found the same feeling and spirit only in the UU Church.  But after several enthusiastic months with us he left, troubled at having to explain (or avoid talking about) God, his desire to praise God, and to thank God for loving him as a gay man.    At our last meeting he told me, in essence that he feels God’s presence in our church, even if we don’t talk about him enough, and so somehow he will have to make do with less God talk.  I told him I would try to include his needs in my worship leading as best I could, despite my personal grounding in scientific naturalism and a non-theist Buddhism.

Theologically I find that the Hindu religious tradtion has a longer history of celebrating and exploring unity within diversity.  We too should develop such a theology in English rather than Sanscrit.  But we must also develop a way of helping people distinguish between the weaknesses and dangers of the many paths… even if there is “one mountain” it is still possible to fall off… which leads me to my next post.

February 4, 2009

The Deep End

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:33 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

To continue my response to the call for creating theological depth in UU Churches, I have three issues: Covenant vs. Creed, Theism vs. Atheism, Answers vs. Practices.

I will keep saying, until someone gives me a good reason not to, that ours is a covenential rather than a creedal faith. I draw my ideas of covenant from James Luther Adams and to a lesser extent from the Jewish religious tradition. A creed is a statement of belief that is used as a test or touchstone for belonging to a religious community. At most a statement of faith is the source of salvation; at least it is used as the central defining feature of a religion. UUism, on the other hand, allows for radical divergence of ‘credo’ (literally – “I believe”) on many matters. What we do believe in is making sacred promises, or covenants. These are agreements on how we will act, and on what principles will guide our actions. Our congregations currently have covenanted to affirm and promote seven principles.

Thus theological depth in UU religious life requires that we understand the difference between faith as ‘trust’ and faith as ‘belief.’ It requires that we understand that belief is central to Christian and Muslim faith, but not to every religion. Depth requires that we think about the difficulties caused by rejecting belief as a cornerstone of a religion, and to understand the ways that covenants are mis-used and mis-understood. It means that we think through the difference between covenant and contract, covenant and non-sacred promises, etc.

Most people in American and Eropean Culture begin their studies of religions in terms of belief. “What do Jews believe?” they ask for example, or “What do Hindus believe?” not realizing that these are Christian questions that may not lead to an adequate understanding of Hinduism or Judaism. To some extent the whole idea of “Hinduism” was created by British Christians who wanted to understand the religious culture of India, never realizing that there was not really “One” Hindu faith until they began asking, over and over again, what is Hinduism, and what do Hindus believe. The same thing happens with UUism. In order to break from this yoke we must be able to speak clearly to the theological justification of Covenant as the way that the true and good comes into human lives.

Thus an understanding of covenant and a deeper shared use of that term and the practices behind it is the starting point for UU Theological depth.