January 8, 2009

The End of Transcending Mystery and Wonder?

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 3:16 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

This week the UUA board will decide whether to place the Commission on Appraisal’s (COS)proposed changes to Article 2, the famed “principles and purposes.”  If you have not read the Commission’s report you can find it here <<http://www25.uua.org/coa/>&gt; along with links to the Board’s agenda, etc.  (By the way, I love the transparency of the Board Agenda.  Anyone can read the reports they will be reading and know the issues they will need to discuss.  I will work with my Board to be as open and well organized. )

It is very striking that no change whatsoever has been proposed to the seven principles.  We seem to like those just as they are.  Other sections have been reworded in some ways and reordered.

However, we are facing major change in the language of the “sources” section of the bylaws.  In 1961 all references to sources were part of the principles.  One sign of the genius of the 1985 rewrite was the separation of these statements into two paragraphs, principles and  sources (and strangely confusing the sources with the oft forgotten “purposes” in common practice.)

Now the sources section is to be turned from a six point list into three paragraphs.  The first is a summary of our Christian (and Jewish) roots.  This reflects our decades long process of reclaiming our historical roots and, in my humble estimation, that is good.  Some persons may be shocked that the statement includes  “God” twice, but if they have not made some peace with this word yet, this is their chance.  That train has left the station and all one can do now is jump off or wait very long for the next station.

The second paragraph is a dryly worded summary list of all our other sources, including our non-creedal stance.  It does list “direct experience of mystery, wonder, beauty and joy’ as sources.  It also includes “the creative power of the arts” along with “the guidance of reason and the lessons of the sciences.”  The paragraph is not dull, but it is not poetic either. I understand some of the reasons for going this way but my first reaction was that I really miss the dynamic theological language of the older statement including: the entire “transcending mystery and wonder” section, the entire “words and deeds” section, the phrase “heed the guidance of reason and the results of science,” the phrase “idolatries of the mind and spirit,”  as well as “to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.”  I would have liked new poetry.  I am certain that there will be come controversy about this at GA.

The final paragraph warns us against misuse of cultural practices.  Much has been said about this section elsewhere, basically that this warning is not clear as to exactly what it refers, and thus could easily be used in unsavory ways by purists of all sorts.

My guess is that if this statement of sources is adopted as is (which is very unlikely) it will be supplemented by many new attempts to creatively rewrite new versions of the old statement.  I don’t know if this is best, that our poetic work is done outside of Association Bylaws.  If so it would be like the flaming chalice, never mentioned in any bylaws yet the practice and words of chalice lighting have developed on their own into a rich and largely unquestioned element of our tradition.  Should our statements be likewise?

No matter what, every UU should read the proposal so as to understand the actions of the Board and the resulting conversation and action at General Assembly and wonder, is this the end of UU churches affirming that our faith draws from “direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life?”