August 8, 2008

Flaming Identities

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:44 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

When I began interfaith activities I never thought about the Flaming Chalice needing to be included as a symbol among the rest.  My daughter, a life-long UU says she finds it odd to see a collection of religious symbols without the chalice. 

Some time ago our local Interfaith group began a practice of beginning large events with a ritual, adapted from Rabbi Joseph Gellman, of lighting one central candle to represent the “one truth” and then to light an “interfaith menorah.”  Each votive in the menorah represents a particular religion; the Star of David for Judaism, a nine pointed star for the Bahia tradition, a quartered circle for “Native American Traditions,” and even a Yin-Yang circle to represent the Taoist Tradition.  As we lit each one we say, for example: “We light a candle for the the Sikh tradition.  We welcome its wisdom.”  Or words to that effect. 

When my friend George Wolfe first introduced this practice I remembered a Muslim friend who once told me that some Muslims don’t like the Crescent and Star image because it is associated with the Ottoman Empire and is a little too much like an idol.  I asked him what he would prefer and after a bit of thought he wrote down the word ‘Allah’ in Arabic. 

But as I looked at the eight symbols I felt that my issue was not to promote Muslim, but UU, awareness.  There was no Flaming Chalice.  For a few minutes I wondered if the chalice really was equivalent to the others, or fit just fine in that funny cluster of stars that represented “All other traditions present.”  But then I realized that the Yin-Yang does not represent an active tradition in Muncie so much as the religions of East Asia in general.  So I asked that we change that one with a Flaming Chalice. 

Now, in Muncie, we are flaming Unitarian Universalists and proud of it.

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July 14, 2008

Phew 2!

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 3:18 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

The second most striking thing for me about the Pew Center Religious Landscape results is their decision to place us in the category of “Other.” Not “Other Christian” (as we have generally been listed for most of the past century of sociological studies) not “Other World Faiths” but a strange border category of “Other Faiths;” and most of us seem to find this  perfectly acceptable.  It speaks to me of our changing identity, which is never fully formed from within, no matter how lovingly we work at our congregational “mission and vision statements.”  

In recent decades we have been dedicated to growing “our movement.”  Part of that effort has been a clarification of our “core” and that, I think has put us on a crossroads.  We are determining, some of us consciously, and others unknowingly, if we are to be a liberal religious movement or a liberal religion. 

For a long time Unitarians especially, but also most American Universalists, have insisted that “we” are not another “denomination,” that is: just another variety of Christian.  In part we avoided that label because in connoted a distinct creed and we were non creedal, but more than that we sought to draw on the living “Truth” rather than any human denomination of it.  In fact many, even Ministers, referred to us simply as “Liberal Religion,” as if we were all the liberal religion in the world.  In the 1800s we were primarily liberal Christian.  Interfaith work expanded that identity through the 20th cent. until we began to see religious liberals in Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Existetialist, and even Muslim forms. 

The result was that we created places that promoted certain values in the world; nice communities to be sure, but with a rather vage “liberal” identity.  Thus, it did not matter so much if we created more U, and then UU congregations or even more U or UU people. What mattered was if we established and nurtured the values of justice, equity and compassion, openmindedness, and reason in the world.  It did not matter if 90% of our youth left our churches never to return, what mattered was that our children were kind and educated: willing to work for peace and justice and a healthy environment. (I even know of a member of a UU curchwho did not mind at all that her son had decided to go along withhis wife and have a Catholic wedding or raise their children with a Catholic identity.  But when he said he was thinking of voting Republican she became unhinged.)  As long as there was a general liberal secular culture and liberalism in mainstream religious societies we could ride easy on the waves of culture. 

But if we are to be more than an embodyment of Liberal Religion, and are to become A Liberal Religion, then what is unique to us will have to grow in importance.  Our rituals will have to take on a stamp all our own and spiritual depth will be described as UU interpretations of ancient concepts rather than liberalized borrowings.  Above all we will have to see our young adult children not joining a UU church as a failure or an insult or rejection rather than an inevatablility.  We will become not just an “other” religious movement, but a true alternative religion.  We could still serve the larger cause of liberal religion, but as one of its children rather than as its presumptive head.  Someday we might even move from ‘other religions’ to ‘world religions.’  I don’t know for sure, but I think the Pew Survey is one more mark of a turn in our history from mere liberalism to UUism.  I know this path has its dangers.  But it excites me to think that we might someday be even more than 0.3% of the world, because if what we say is true, then we and the world will all truly be changed for the better.