Archive for the ‘UU’ Category

How do you use God? Do you use Jesus? How about Allah, ever use him?

The idea of “using” Jesus or Buddha sounds strange, doesn’t it? And yet, I’ve heard many pagans talking about the deities they “use” for various purposes. I’ve done it myself, in deciding which gods I wanted to “use” in JMG’s Sphere of Protection ritual.

But Teo Bishop brought me up short on it with this entry at Bishop in the Grove.

After describing attending a ritual at which a leader briefly suggested the best gods to “use,” Teo writes:

Huh. What an interesting use of the word “use”, I thought. Using Gods to cure what ails you. Using Gods to get what you want out of life. Huh. How consumerist. Pill popping deities; making use of them in order to – what – be pain-free, blissful, satisfied?

It got me wondering – Is that what the Gods are? New Age Prescription Drugs?

Me, I’m still wrestling with my concept of deity, and I’ll say more about it as I continue the “My Pagan Soul” series I’ve been slowly working on. I’m not sure if I’m a “gods are real” polytheist or not, as Teo describes himself. I’d like to be, but coming from a long time of alternating between monotheism, agnosticism and panentheism, it’s an alien concept that I’m still working to get comfortable with.

But I do think that whatever the gods are — real individual beings, manifestations of a single larger divinity or psychological archetypes — the very concept means they deserve to not be seen as commodities that we can “use.” They deserve respect and some degree of reverence. (I recently read a discussion where one poster mentioned he’d named his dog Cernunnos, after the horned god of the Celts, and another said it was a “great name for a dog!” Is it? Know any devout Hindus with a dog named Krishna?)


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John Michael GreerI’ve arranged for John Michael Greer, Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, to come speak at my church, Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist. The program will take place Oct. 8, and is titled “Nature Spirituality and the Future of Human Society.” He’s going to blend Druidry with his work on peak oil and conservation.

I’m winding my way through his latest book, The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered. It’s an excellent read and offers some really insightful analysis of why economists miss the point so much of the time. Like all of his books, it’s written well, easy to read and understand despite the complexity of the subject.

He recently mentioned in a comment on his blog The Archdruid Report that he’s working on a book about various prophecies of doomsday, to be titled Apocalypse Not. It will be out in September.

The program is free, so if you’re anywhere nearby the Washington D.C. area (the church is south of D.C. in Camp Springs, Md.) come on out. And pass the information on to anyone you know who might be interested. It promises to be a great evening.

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This is just to add a little bit to Michael’s update to catch up on where I am with all this and why.

Back when we first started this blog, Michael and I were searching… we’d gone through a period of a-religion, to reaching out tentacles of interest and curiosity, sometimes together, other times in apparently opposite directions and not at all sure how or if our spiritual ideals would mesh well together or be something to work around.

Then we discovered Davies, and the UU faith in general, and wow… the exploration is actually a part of religious expression, and here was a place and a method of religious expression that lets us each seek as we will without any requirement or even expectation that we must be united in the details.  We’re united by the exploration.

Michael’s signed the book and is UU.  I haven’t yet, but will once I am there as a resident and not just a visitor… and I am UU.  And declaring a religious affiliation like that is a big, big deal for me.  My spiritual views are and always will be pagan, but the religious community that supports me in that is UU.  There!

The 4th Principle of Unitarian Universalism states that we affirm and promote “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning”.. .and I think that’s a large part of where Michael and I are now in terms of how to appropriately express the spiritual views we are coming to take to heart.

It’s a practical matter, I think, to try to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels (gas, oil, coal) before necessity drives the cost out of our reach, or scarcity makes it impossible to continue consuming as we are now.  But it is also a spiritual exercise… if the Earth matters – and she does… if our purpose is more than that of consumer to corporate raping and pillaging of our natural resources – and we are… then something has got to change.  And living aware of what our actions cost is mindfulness.  It is a meditation.  It is a prayer.  It is an affirmation that there is a future to preserve.

But let’s go back to practicality – these last few years have financially been extremely limited for me, and while things will be better from my perspective once Michael and I blend households, I think he’s going to find it tighter than he’s used to, because the financial footprint of feeding, clothing, and sheltering two people is more than it is for one.   So adjustments are coming!

From a more general perspective – our nation continues to have low job prospects, average pay is going down, the housing market continues to be awful no matter what weak little happy-camper reports come out now and then, and I just read this morning that the ‘job growth’ we’re being told to be so optimistic about is somewhat less than it was during the heart of the Great Depression.

Things are not going to bounce back to the artificially affluent culture we were all taking for granted a few years ago.  We never did have any built in right to have it all, and we can either whine and moan about that now – or we can find a saner way to live our lives without being consumer gluttons.

At this point, I think Michael and I are in full agreement that we need to make some major changes in our notions of what normal consumer levels ought to be…and equal still rank beginners at figuring out how to go about making those changes,and not at all sure how much we’re going to be able to do to live more self-sufficiently, either by talent or by physical capability (we’re no spring chickens, y’know).

But we have desire and a growing sense that we can start practicing now, or be one of the many people a few years from now desperately playing catchup to the new reality.

For my part, food preparation seems to be where I most want to start.  I’ve learned to stretch my grocery budget to the squeaking point, eliminated a lot of expensive and overly packaged convenience foods from my regular pantry list, and have made at least experimental forays into making things from scratch many of us have forgotten can be.

I want to learn and develop a habit of canning – hopefully, eventually, preserving the harvest of our own garden.  I want to successfully have a thriving herb garden.  I want to reduce the amount of meat we consume – and switch to locally raised meat, milk and eggs rather than corporate-tortured animal products.  I want to get into the habit of baking our week’s bread myself.   Iwant to make the Farmer’s Market and possible a CSA subscription a part of regular lifestyle.  I want ‘convenience foods’ to be meals I’ve pre-prepped and have waiting in the freezer or pantry for days when we haven’t the time or inclination to cook intensively.

And I say all of this knowing that it’s going to take a great deal of perseverance, in a world that’s run by companies that want to make it really, really easy to purchase a product that includes a massive energy footprint (corporate farms for meat and veggies and grains, chemists labs for all the unpronounceable preservatives and filler, transportation costs for all of that to the factory where it’s put together and then outward to stores, not to mention all the production and transportation costs of the metal, paper and plastic packaging to wrap and seal it.

I still buy plenty of that stuff – and I’m probably going to be for a good while yet.  But I’m learning not to, and plan to take this a step at a time.  As Michael noted – the bottom isn’t going to fall out overnight.  We’ve got room to learn how to do this.

And this weblog is going to be our record of how we do that – what works, and what doesn’t, and a few reminders of why we’re trying.

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Year of change

Back after a long time gone.

My involvement in church life has increased in recent months. I agreed to serve as chairman of our Growth & PR Committee, I’ve learned how to turn the service recording into a podcast and I agreed to write and preach a sermon during the summer season when the regular minister is on hiatus.

It’s a lot, but it makes me feel truly involved, not just a name in the membership book.

Lately I’ve thinking about hearth, kindred. Pagan spirituality places a great deal of value on home, family and close friends. Community. Davies has become my religious home, while I’m just a few months away from finally unifying my family home (my fiancee who temporarily lives a considerable distance away will be moving here.)

I was without either of those things for a long time in my life. I had no spiritual kindred at all for many years, nor a home center with another soul making it hearth. These are good changes, some already made and some coming soon. Very soon.

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DMUUC by any other name

Our congregation finally voted this past Sunday on a years-old proposal to slightly amend our name, from Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church to Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Congregation. The final vote was 25-24 against, so “Church” we remain.

I voted for keeping the old name, although I don’t have strong feelings about it. From a pragmatic standpoint, I don’t see the need for a financially-struggling congregation to make a change that will require new signage and branding. And from a spiritual standpoint — well, we are a liberal religious organization. We are a church in at least some senses of the word, and I like that the name embraces that.

On the other hand, I do see merit in the argument that “church” is a holdover from our Christian heritage and our religion has moved beyond that. I sympathize with those who feel wounds and scars from their past experiences in churches and would prefer a religious community that uses another word. And there’s certainly nothing incorrect about “congregation.”

I am sure the issue will come up again. The close vote shows a lot of people feel strongly about it, even if they’re split almost down the middle on which side they feel strongly about.

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I’ve been listening to a podcast called Spirit in Action, produced by the liberal Quakers at Northern Spirit Radio, and it’s added some nice confirmations to my theory of the secret UUs.

John Shelby Spong was on a 2005 podcast that I just heard today. He and the host spent a few minutes on the idea of ongoing revelation, and the host asked Spong what books he might add to the canon of sacred scripture if he could. Spong named Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letters From a Birmingham Jail,” and works by Dag Hammerskjold, among others. And elsewhere in the interview he talked about incorporating the findings of science into one’s spirituality, naming Charles Darwin and Karl Jung in particular.

Among the six sources of spiritual wisdom UUs recognize: “Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.”

In a more recent podcast, Philip Gulley was discussing his latest book, If the Church Were Christian, and through the course of the conversation mentioned that Fairfield Friends Meeting — the Quaker meeting he pastors — includes Baha’i, Jews and atheists.  And as for himself, he told the host he’s not concerned with calling himself a Christian. As the first chapter of the latest book suggests, he sees Jesus as a model for living, not an object of worship.

Sounds kind of like a UU congregation, doesn’t it? I was also reminded that in the book, though not in the podcast, he mentions that he would rather have a congregation of kind atheists than mean-spirited Christians.

Among the seven UU principles are a respect for the worth and dignity of each person; encouragement to spiritual growth; and a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

I don’t mean to make more of this than it is. I doubt either Spong or Gulley would call themselves UUs. But the theologies they espouse, in particular their shared emphasis on action over belief and acceptance of people as they are — and their theological ideas which bear many similarities to one another and not many at all to the traditional Christian settings each of them came through — suggest that they would be comfortable and very much at home in a UU congregation.

More to the point, I think that the broad universe of liberal religion has more similarities than differences. If atheists can attend a Quaker meeting, and a former Episcopal Bishop can speak unreservedly of wanting to add Martin Luther King to the sacred canon (and rip Leviticus out of it), then we’re drinking from the same well. Add many reform Jews, the United Church of Christ and other liberal Christian denominations, humanists, many or most neo-pagans and various unlabeled liberal-spiritual types, and we have a movement that’s considerably larger than it might seem.

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UU culture: Welcoming or not?

UU World has been home to a recent spate of essays and reflections on “UU culture,” and whether our congregations are as welcoming to a diverse range of people as we might wish.

In the Spring issue, Paul Rasor described the changing demographics of America, and argued:

Unitarian Universalism has its own cultural tradition, one that is rooted in European-American cultural norms and ways of being in the world. This normative lens is often invisible to those of us who look through it, but it is all too visible to those who view the world through different cultural lenses. This is why our ongoing antiracism work is so important. We cannot become a multicultural faith if we—subconsciously or otherwise—continue to treat a particular monocultural lens as normative.

In a companion essay in the same issue, African-American UU minister Rosemary Bray McNatt described the stereotypical UU as one who doesn’t listen to pop music, watch any TV other than PBS, and would never shop at Wal-Mart. And she wrote that even in a UU congregation,

[W]e cannot escape the boxes to which we are likely to be assigned. If you talk about loving gospel music and you’re black, you’re stereotypical, and if you are white you are racist, and if you are Latino/Latina you are angry that the movement remains in a black-white paradigm at all, and if you are Asian, you feel invisible a lot of the time, and if you are multiracial you are annoyed that you are being asked to choose, and, no matter what your social location, you find yourself in trouble rather than in community.

And John F. Katz, defending the status quo, argued:

Yes, Rev. McNatt, that is my culture that you have identified as the number-one barrier to diversity—and yes, I am “pretty proud” of it. Damn right  I don’t listen to music that promotes violence, misogyny, and homophobia. Nor do I wallow in a pop culture that actively exploits anti-intellectualism. If that makes me a geek, or a nerd, or (gasp!) a snob—then so be it. More of us geeks/nerds/snobs would make the world a gentler place.

Among the three, McNatt’s argument is most persuasive to me. I’m already not part of the culture she describes. I immerse myself in pop music and watch a good deal of TV. In fact I can’t remember the last time I did watch PBS. The articles address the cultural barriers largely in terms of race and class, but even among us white Americans in the middle class, the snobbery of which Katz is so proud is enormously off-putting.

If Unitarian Universalism is to become a thriving global movement in the 21st century — and given its identity as a religious home for those who don’t feel comfortable with a creed and but aren’t interested in losing spirituality altogether, it’s ideally poised to — it has to appear welcoming to people from all races, cultures and economic strata. Do you think Christianity has succeeded by shaping itself to appeal most strongly to a relatively small fraction of people? Quite the opposite!

In the UU tradition, nothing should be a barrier to entry. We’re justifiably proud of our theological diversity, welcoming atheists, theists, deists, Daoists and pagans alike. “We need not believe alike to love alike,” we say. We’re going to have to get better at demonstrating the same welcoming on various races, social strata and cultural reference points if we’re to thrive. We do it in theory, but the reality is not always there.

Or as Shawna Foster at the blog Vessel put it:

The problem is that most of our culture is based out of a false sense of superiority. We think the things we do absolve us of societal problems. It’s utopianism that has got our denomination by the throat. We have built a walled garden too high. People who don’t look like us can’t get in, even when we beg them. We don’t understand popular culture, or we think we do and disdain it – and then wonder why not everyone on earth is a Unitarian Universalist!

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