February 12, 2010
What images come to mind when you say “Unitarian Universalism:” A chalice with fire burning in it; people marching in defense of love and justice; a group of diverse people endlessly discussing great ideas? My favorite is of two parents (of any gender,) one of the two with an arm around the one holding the baby, while a minister touches the baby with a flower. The religious power of images is undeniable. That one just makes me smile.
By images I do not mean simply visuals, but ideas that are concrete enough so that a blind person can grasp their emotional and symbolic meaning. Of course the power of an image depends heavily on context. For example, to the average American Lord Ganesha is a pretty weird-looking dude with his elephant head, multiple arms, roly-poly body and giant rat for a pet. To the average Indian Hindu the image is a happy object of devotion, a most sweet and hopeful image of God and God’s abundant grace. For many the image will immediately evoke stories and significant beginnings, like weddings or New Year’s Day.
In the Christian tradition images of God as Jesus have varied greatly, from a serene and serious and suffering lord with an otherworldly quality, to a kind and bearded guy in white robes. I don’t know who first gave me this idea, some peacemaker and anti-gun violence advocate, but go and put the words “Jesus” and “gun” into a web image search. Then laugh, (in a shocked and sad way,) at what comes up. Ah the fun we can have with photo-shop software.
My favorite is Jesus with a child, holding a gun and saying, “No, you hold it like this.” I thought the AK-47 in the famous “Jesus Knocks” painting was too much. It seemed enough to have Jesus tapping on the door with a pistol: creepy and threatening. Maybe it would be cool to see Jesus, like some police chaplains I know, wearing a pistol in seeking to serve and protect, but the images online make clear to me how corrupt and skewed are the teachings of those who celebrate “bring a gun to church day.” Especially, in a world where UUs and many others have been shot and killed by crazy, anguished people who brought guns to church. I want to uphold alternatives to violence and weapon wielding.
I turn back to the image of the child and the guardians of that child celebrating life in the face of all that makes it difficult.
February 6, 2010
My wife has been in pain lately. It has lasted long enough that, though a confirmed atheist, she has begun to talk about making a “bargain with God” if only the pain would go away. Is this faith development or straying from the path? The Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron of the vajrayana tradition tells us to face the places we hurt, face the things that frighten us, and open our heart to them. I know from personal experience that this can be a very difficult practice. Am I backsliding, or growing in faith? How do we talk about faith development in UU congregations?
Sadly I was not able to be present when our Heartland District leaders gave a report on Faith Formation 2020 at our recent UUMA Chapter Retreat. So I went online to find out what the Lifelong Faith organization had to say.
Their “Thirteen Trends and Forces Affecting the Future of Faith Formation in a Changing Church and World” have all sorts of implication for UU congregations. But what was very interesting to me was their “Four Scenarios for the Future of Faith Formation.”
The scenarios really have nothing to do with predicting the future so much as determining how a congregation serves the faith formation needs of differing people. In adapting this material to UU congregations, in most cases, just replace the word “Christian,” with “UU.”
Most congregations focus on serving the “people in the pews,” that is, on those who are both committed and active members. But how do we deepen the faith of those who think of themselves as UUs but can not be very active in regular church life? How do we serve people who are very spiritual but not interested in organized religion? How do we nurture the faith of those who see the power of the church and want to use it, but are not interested in introspection?
Long restless with the one size fits all approach of most church membership programs I have long used a two axis graph with four quadrants, to help me and others reflect on how we serve people of different needs. One axis is level of institutional involvement, the other shows level of commitment to values and ideals. My chart is very like the ‘openness to religion’ and ‘openness to spirituality’ graph of the Four Scenarios of Faith Formation (on page 2 of their pdf.) The point is to choose one of these quadrants and ask, how do we help these people live a more liberal faith?
Just something to think about when trying to help someone in pain.