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.

1 Comment »

  1. David Throop said,

    Small group ministries (aka Covenant Groups, Chalice Circles..) are the way to go. In our church, we have two Buddhist groups, a mystic group, a pagan group. I just trained a woman last week to restart the Christian Covenant Group. These small groups allow UUs to, inter alia, follow their chosen path more fully and with more focus than they get in the Sunday service.

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