April 26, 2010

Prayer and Meditation

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:28 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

Last week federal judge, the Honorable Barbara Crabb, declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.

According to an Associated Press article by Todd Richmond, Crabb wrote.

““It is because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual’s decision whether and when to pray,” Crabb wrote that her ruling was not a judgment on the value of prayer. She noted government involvement in prayer may be constitutional if the conduct serves a “significant secular purpose” and doesn’t amount to a call for religious action. But the National Day of Prayer crosses that line, she wrote.”It goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgment’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context,” she wrote. “In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.””

Some people say she was just being crabby (pun intended.) Some crazy people have proclaimed that all prayer has been made illegal in the United States; what is true that government establishment of religion has been against the constitution since the Bill of Rights was adopted.  Religious fear-mongers paint this as an anti-religious attack, but there are very good religious reasons for questioning the practice of a national day of prayer.

Several years ago Muncie, IN,  had a civic ceremony on the National Day of Prayer.   The Mayor, the Police Chief, Fire Chief and other publicly elected officials participated. However, the ceremony’s explicit purpose, stated by its local organizer and by the national organization that inspired him, was to assert that the U.S.A. was and is a “Christian” nation. This was not obvious until a group of local Christian pastors, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Disciples, as well as the Unitarian Universalists, expressed a discomfort with the ceremony and asked that all citizens of our city, of all religious preferences or none, be included.   Of course the people on the side of inclusion and tolerance won.  But then the question arose, “is this good religious practice?” Most Christians who read the Gospels of Matthew, 6:5-13, and Luke, 18:9-14, became uncomfortable with the whole idea of a civic prayer ceremony, and so the civic recognition has fallen by the wayside.

A second problem arose in answering the question, what is prayer? For many prayer is simply talking to God, some it is a communion with God and for yet others prayer includes working with devotion. Is meditation a form of prayer, or an alternative to prayer? Psalm 19:14 does not clarify the distinction.  Can creating artwork, or dancing, be a form of prayer?  Is belief in God, or gods, required for prayer?

If prayer is “speaking to a personal deity” then we must live up the standard set by our President, at his inauguration.  He said, “We know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.”

Perhaps a National Day of Prayer,  Meditation, and Contemplation on the well-being of our nation would pass constitutional muster?

April 5, 2010

Ethnic UUs

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:42 am by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

To be a Unitarian Universalist we say you must be a active member of a UU Church.  Except, according to recent Pew Center polling, people who call themselves UU but are not part of a church outnumber the church members two to one!

I have long noticed the people who are married to UUs, but rarely darken the door of a church unless their child is in a play or something.  Are they UU? I meet many people who tell me “We were married in a UU Church,” as if that makes us related; yet they have never joined a congregation in the twenty years since.  There seem to be almost as many people who “used to go” to the Muncie UU church as those who regularly participate.

The other day a young woman asked me to conduct her marriage ceremony. In talking I mentioned that the process for non-members reserving the church building is different than for members. She looked a little confused and said, ” I have always thought of myself as a UU. I know I haven’t attended much in the past decade, but I was raised in that church and I would never think of going anywhere else.” I asked if she ever remembered signing a membership book. “No” she protested, “but I still think of my self as part of that church.”

One problem is that many of us have long defined our “movement” as synonymous with all liberal religion, or mere cultural liberalism in general, especially as it appears in North America. This is a definition almost without boundaries, one that encourages anyone who thinks that tolerance, open-mindedness, and a desire for freedom and  justice are good enough for a shared identity.  I think it is related to our problems with racial diversity. That we have a particular ethnic identity: middle-class, liberal-minded, well-educated, white-people.

In my church we make a clear distinction between Members and Friends.  We like our friends, we want them to be part of the church, they have permanent name tags and can even lead committees .  In a sense all of our children in the RE program are Friends.  Membership on the other hand takes commitment, a covenant, to follow our principles and  struggle with them, and to fulfill to the church a pledge  of one’s energy, time and money.

It is more common to think of ethnic Catholics or Jews, but there are many people who are connected to UU congregations in a similar way; on the edges but not on the fence. What does our connection to those people mean? What duty or responsibility do we have towards those persons? How do they change our own self-image?