innovation and ministry.

18 Sep

This is a bit more of a personal post than usual. As I come up on the 25th reunion of my high school class, I am thinking about the amazing education I received, and how it has served me.

Some people are surprised when they find out that I have a Bachelors degree in Computer Science. And they become even more flummoxed when they find out that I was in the very first graduating class of one of the first STEM public magnet schools in the country, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Fairfax County, VA.

My spouse used to think it was strange that I take such pride in my secondary alma matter. But it is hard not to be proud to have been in that first class, particularly now that Newsweek has listed my school as THE top public high school in the country. Again. This is not an unusual distinction for the school.*

The detailed Newsweek article quotes Principal Evan Glazer sharing that the school is “preparing kids to go into fields that have yet to be invented.” A teacher is quoted as being excited about it being “a public school that allows us to try new things!”

Okay, you might be saying. So what? What does this have to do with anything except Dawn bragging?

Well, it turns out that my high school actually prepared me to be in the ministry, because this field is changing. Not as rapidly as technology, but it is changing in unprecidented and unforseeable ways.

There are two primary drivers for the changes that the church is seeing right now: timing and technology.

Phyllis Tickle points out that every 500 years, the church goes through a massive upheaval. Right now, she says, we are going through the Great Emergence. Watch the video for a quick summary of her arguments.**

Combine the timing issue with the radical changes in technology and in how we relate to one another due to social media, and church is not what it was even 25 years ago. There are a lot of folks who have written about this phenomena, I don’t have space to go over it here.

The point is that for a very long time, culturally speaking, church was about the same. Now it is not. This means that now, more than ever, we need leaders (lay and professional) who are willing to try new things, to experiment, to innovate. Leaders who will take the past, build upon it and then go in new places.

I don’t think I would have made a very good minister in the 1950s, or 60s, or even 1980s. But I think that my education and experience have predisposed me to be energized by these changes. So in many ways, I am doing exactly what my high school educated me to do 25 years ago. Who would have thunk it?

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* The wikipedia article has a list of some of the many, many awards. As my spouse and I look into high schools for our kids, my standards are ridiculously high. And I think that ALL students should be able to have access to such an amazing opportunity.

**Granted, she is speaking particularly of the Christian Church, but as part of a tradition that is directly connected to Christianity, Unitarian Universalists cannot help but be impacted by these changes.

effort & inertia.

3 Sep

A huge part of my sabbatical is working on a book that reflects on lessons and experiences I had in Roller Derby and applies them to psychological, sociological, and theological topics. Each chapter has two titles: the first one, in capital letters is the basic concept, followed by a phrase or inspiration from derby.

I won’t promise to post all the chapters, but I will post many of the first drafts. What do you want to know more about? What should I write less about? I welcome all constructive feedback, questions, curiosities.

Towards that end, here is the chapter I am calling…

Effort & Inertia: Stinky Pads

It’s midway through practice and we are doing a hitting drill with full contact. It’s my turn, and as I chase after my teammate, I am breathing heavy and envisioning where I will catch up to her and how I will slide my hips in front of her and then sheriff her with my shoulder.

Midway around the track, I catch her and as I go to slide in front of her, the top of our arms touch. Her skin is so slick that my arm slides in front of her fast enough to throw off my balance. Before I know it, I am face down on the floor. My teammate has lept over me gracefully.

I get back up, and go stand back in line to try again. As I look at my teammate, I see she is covered in sweat. There are no dry spots on her shirt. Indeed, if she stands in one place too long, a puddle will form.

Roller derby makes you sweat, some more than others. Many sports make you sweat, of course, but many sports don’t have you wearing as much protective gear as roller derby does. Sweat gets into our helmets, our elbow pads, our wrist guards, our kneepads, and of course our skates themselves. At the end of practice, we throw all our sweaty gear into our bags and into our cars. If we are lucky, they will have time to dry out before the next practice. Many of us aren’t so lucky. So in addition to being sweaty, we stink.

photo

Oh, how we stink. Even after cleaning my pads and letting them air out, two years after I last strapped them on, I can still smell them when I walk into that part of the basement. Since our sense of smell is the one most tightly connected to our memories, it’s not uncommon for me to stand and nostalgically remember my roller derby days whenever I have to get something from the basement freezer.

Sweat. Stench. Signs of effort.

I have come a long, long way.

There was a time – just after college when I began working in the “real world” where I would actively avoid anything that made me sweat. I had lost that part of me that enjoyed getting dirty while playing in a creek, playing tackle football in a field. I avoided anything where I might get dirty, or, heaven forbid, that might make me smell.

All around me were pictures of what being a woman meant – nicely coiffed, clean, in a pressed shirt and impeccably accessorized. This is what I thought I was supposed to be now that I was “grown-up”. I abhorred anything that might require sunscreen, or bugspray, or ultra-heavy-duty-deoderant.

Thank goodness for roller derby, which allowed me to reclaim my love of getting dirty. Now, like a kid, I revel in it (sorry, honey!). These days, if I am participating in a physical activity and don’t sweat, I feel like I have not worked hard enough. I haven’t put in enough effort.

So you would think that, given how much I enjoy the effort that I put into practice, and how good I usually felt when it was over, that getting me to actually get in the car and go to practice would not be such a insanely difficult endeavor.

But it usually was.

Most days, I just wanted to stay at home. I was tired after a long day of working, I had barely had a chance to say hello to my kids, much less knowing I would be missing bedtime again. With a job that has a lot of evening meetings, there were some days I didn’t even go home first – I would spend 10 hours at the church and then go straight to practice.

Most days, inertia set in. And it became a battle with myself to get to practice, even as much as I loved it.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about this process, now, so I know that I am not alone. For many of us, even if something is wonderful, fulfilling, exciting, challenging – all this good stuff – we still have a hard time getting off our butts and actually doing it.

This is one reason why new exercise routines fail, or new healthy-eating plans, or : Inertia.

Inertia is the tendency of an object at rest to stay at rest, or an object in motion to stay in motion. This fundamental principle of physics applies to the motion of objects, but the word itself actually comes from a Latin root that means idle or sluggish – words we usually use to describe human beings.

If we are going about our daily business, and then come home and plop on the couch, it is inertia that will want to keep us there for the next 4 hours. It is inertia that tells us that it is too hard, too difficult, too time-consuming to get out the equipment of our old hobby that we loved to do before we get derailed from doing it regularly a few months ago. Particular to my field, it is inertia that keeps someone from going to a religious service, even if they know they will love seeing their friends and worshipping with their community.

It is also inertia that can keep us going even when other resources have failed. It was actually easier for me to get practice on those nights I worked late, even though I entered practice pre-exhausted. It was easier because I had been in motion all day and just allowed it to carry me along. Whereas if I had gone home first and slowed down, it was harder to resume activity.

A friend of mine recently shared a quote with me, from Lucille Ball. She said “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.” At first glance, I thought my friend meant “Ask a busy person, because obviously they can’t say no!” but the quote continues: “The more things you do, the more you can do.” Inertia works both ways – it is harder for us as human beings to change our state than it is to keep doing what we are doing.

So how does one get over the inertia that may prevent her from participating in something that will be fun, exciting, and fulfilling, and actively recalibrate her activity level? Marelisa Fábrega, author of How to Live Your Best Life – The Essential Guide For Creating and Achieving Your Life List, recommends the following in her blogpost entitled “Seven Ways to Overcome Inertia and Get Yourself Unstuck”:

1. Shock Yourself Into Action
One way to get the bump to move us from resting to activity is to shock ourselves into action. This may be by asking ourselves pointed questions, such as ones that might focus on the consequences of not engaging in an action. “What happens if I don’t make it to practice tonight?” I might ask myself. The answer: Not only will I feel worse for not going, and not only will I neglected to engage in a healthy, stress-reducing activity, but I also won’t be eligible to play in the next bout if I don’t earn these practice points!

2. Secure Short Term Wins
Sometimes, overcoming inertia is giving ourselves enough quick wins that we become energized, which can then help us get motivated in the longer-term. For getting out the door for practice, I would create short-term wins like “I am just going to pack up my gear and put it in the car” often followed by “I am just going to get dressed and put my contacts in” – with no requirement that this meant I would actually go to practice. Of course, by the time I had done all this, I was pretty much ready to go and so usually did.

3. Dangle a Carrot In Front of Yourself
Reward ourselves! Both long-term and short-term rewards come in handy when trying to overcome the inertia that keeps us idle. Short-term carrots for me almost always involved chocolate after practice. A longer term carrot might be qualifying for the roster for the next game.

4. Use a Stick
Fábrega points out that “not only do we have a tendency to move toward pleasure, we have an even stronger tendency to move away from pain.” So then how can we use this to overcome inertia? Denial is an effective technique – I have found the denial of chocolate to be quite effective. Another one she recommends is charging yourself money. “For example, you could ask a friend to charge you $5 for every day that you fail to take action toward the achievement of your goal.”

5. Fill Your Gas Tank
I think this one should probably really be number 1. How often can we not get started on something because we don’t have enough energy? This might mean taking a nap, getting to sleep earlier more regularly, or having a healthy snack. It might also mean going for a walk, light job, or doing some yoga – something that helps get our blood flowing.

6. Create a Clear Vision of What You’re Trying to Achieve
Visualization works wonders. We were often told in practice that, in order to master a skill, several times a day we should visualize ourselves mastering the skill. Combining this with some of the other tools can yield particularly powerful results when overcoming inertia: I would visualize eating that lovely piece of chocolate when I got home from practice. When my mouth started salivating, I was out the door.

7. Stage It
We can also remove physical obstacles that might prevent us from getting done what we are trying to get done. For instance, if I hate going into the basement to get my gear, I could set it up closer to the door that I will go out. I might make dinner in the crockpot that morning so that lack of something to make for dinner is not my excuse for not going to practice. Fábrega says “Set the stage for the action that you want to take.”

Sometimes, the rewards of putting in a good effort are not quite enough to overcome our inertia. But when we do overcome it, we can be extra proud. One sign of that effort in roller derby is how much our pads stink. Roller girls are secretly (and not so secretly) proud of them. Still, just to be safe, if a roller girl hands you something and says “Hey, smell this”…don’t.

a possible new approach for congregations to organize around their mission.

25 Aug

I have read quite a bit about congregation dynamics, organization, and governance in the past few years in addition to serving an historic, urban congregation. As our world and culture changes, so too must our congregations. We cannot keep doing things the way they were done in the 1950s. So what do we do, and what might that look like? Here is a model I have been tinkering with.

It is in our congregations that our mission and vision is best incarnated. It is through our congregations that we change ourselves, our communities and our culture. Please note that I am not using the traditional definition of “congregation” here, but am expanding it to include any community of faith. For these purposes, a congregation might be a covenanted community or other emerging organization that does not fit the traditional definition.

I propose a 6H Approach for congregations to use to serve their mission:

  • HEALING those participants who are spiritually wounded and struggling, providing resources (such as pastoral care and counseling) to those in spiritual need who choose to participate in the life of the congregation. So many people come to us desperate for our message of love and acceptance. And so many of those already with us have crises in our lives during which we need a community of love and support. Before any of the other steps can take place, people need to be spiritually rejuvenated.

  • HOLDING participants in care through providing opportunities for them to make connections with others in the congregation; and through worship and religious education opportunities that help them deepen their faith. This step must continue through the rest of the process, as it grounds participants in the congregation and its mission.

  • HEARING and honoring the the stories of participants, recognizing that each person and each story is unique and brings something to the table. An important part of this step is to create space to encourage participants to discern how they are called to minister to each other and to the world. There are deep discernment and spiritual direction components to this step.

  • HELPING participants to gain the skills/training/experience necessary to live out their ministry. It may mean saying “This does not fit with our mission” and returning to the HEARING phase. Provided the ministry does fit into the mission of the congregation, it may mean connecting them with an existing ministry. It means holding participants accountable and helping them create a plan for the ministry. It means helping a participant to learn/discover the risks/cracks in their plans. In this step, the congregation might provide leadership training, or grant writing training. Or perhaps the congregation would help connect participants with others in the local/extended community who are interested in or already doing similar work.

  • HANDING OFF the mission to the participant(s). Provided the ministry fits with the mission of the congregation, the congregation needs to trust the participants and not micromanage every level of detail of their ministry. The congregation should give the participant(s) access to the resources of the congregation (newsletter, facebook page, copy machine, etc.) with clearly defined policies, limits, and expectations.

  • HOMECOMING provides the essential accountability and ongoing connection between the congregation as a whole and the various ministries in which participants are engaging. Is the ministry effective? Does it continue to fit with the congregation’s mission? What might need to be updated? What is working that other ministries might be interested in replicating? This phase is also a time for people to review and renew (or change) their connections with different ministries – perhaps an individual will want to re-enter the Hearing phase for additional discernment.

With the 6H Approach, congregations could structure themselves around these different steps. There would still need to be strong governance of the congregation, but this would help organize the congregation’s ministry around its mission. In this way, with the mission at the forefront, congregations can better be about the work of transformation.

In the interest of transparency, I haven’t yet tried this out in a congregation but I hope to have a conversation around these lines with my congregation when I return from sabbatical.

I welcome feedback and thoughts/suggestions.

feeling impotent about Ferguson.

20 Aug

As a human being in general, and as a minister in particular, I am called to pay attention; to pay attention to what is going on in the world around me, particularly when I would rather focus on much easier topics. To bear witness to the highs and lows of human life.

I have been struggling with that this week. I don’t want to pay attention. I am on sabbatical, the kids just started school, I finally have time to myself. I want to work on the book I have in my head. I want to tackle that enormous reading list.

I open the book I am supposed to read for my study group in November, and this is what I see.

In the vicious maltreatment of defenseless citizens of Ferguson, where old women and young children were gassed and clubbed at random, we have witnessed an eruption of the disease of racism which seeks to destroy all America. No American is without responsibility. All are involved in the sorrow that rises from Ferguson to contaminate every crevice of our national life. The people of Ferguson will struggle on for the soul of the nation, but it is fitting that all America help to bear the burden. I call, therefore, on clergy of all faiths to join me in Ferguson…In this way all America will testify to the fact that the struggle in Ferguson is for the survival of democracy everywhere in our land.

The original is the telegram issued by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King on March 8. 1965. I changed “Selma” to “Ferguson” because that is what my heart read. And as I read it, my throat closed and my spirit cried out.

Fifty years, and we are still viciously maltreating our citizens, and sorrow rises to contaminate every crevice of our national life.

I know so many of us feel similarly right now. So many of us are hurting, overwhelmed by the issues going on in Ferguson and elsewhere around the country.  We may want to just ignore it, but since it is not going away, we get drawn in.

Our pain is a testament to our interconnection. We hurt, seeing and hearing about these events, because we know we are connected to those who are suffering, in Ferguson and beyond. We have an innate capacity for compassion, to want to reduce suffering if we can. And right now, many of us feel impotent.  “What can I do about it?” we may ask ourselves.

I find hope in the increasing intensity of what is happening – not just in Ferguson, but around the country. The longer people are demanding justice and are showing up in Ferguson and in solidarity in our own towns, then isn’t it more likely that something must change?

This is the start of something big, something hopeful but not without pain. The best way to address that pain is to do something that has meaning. No matter how impotent those of us at a distance may feel, there are things we can do to help out. This list that the Huffington Post put out is the best I have seen.

So hang in there with me. Pay attention, but take breaks. Take care of yourself. Step away from the computer and take your dog for a walk. Hug a loved one. Call a friend. Go see a movie.

Then, when you are rejuvenated, read through that list again and do something about the next item on it. In this way, instead of going out in a blaze of existential impotence, we might keep the flame of justice and compassion burning within us for as long as it takes to see this through. May it be so.

book chapter.

19 Aug

A huge part of my sabbatical is working on a book that reflects on lessons and experiences I had in Roller Derby and applies them to psychological, sociological, and theological topics. Each chapter has two titles: the first one, in capital letters is the basic concept, followed by a phrase or inspiration from derby.

I won’t promise to post all the chapters, but I will post many of the first drafts. What do you want to know more about? What should I write less about? I welcome all constructive feedback, questions, curiosities.

Towards that end, here is the chapter I am calling…

RISK / Liv Fearless
I sat there in the car and I could not help but wonder what on earth I was doing. Even though my family was at church, it was one of my Sundays off. And there I sat, outside a roller rink, wondering if I would get out of the car and go in. Surely, I did not belong there. The other women who I saw go in were much younger, in better shape, and infinitely more hip than I had ever been in my life. So there I sat.

As the sun streamed down on the beautiful morning, I thought about what had gotten me to this parking lot in the first place. I was still new in town, having relocated my family nine months earlier so that I could take my first full-time settled ministry position. I wasn’t having a lot of success creating a community of friends around me – something that I was not only used to but that I craved. Ministry was lovely and wonderful and I was having an amazing time, but a part of me needed to just let loose every now and then. I was feeling wound up. I knew I needed to find some way to release this pent up energy, and soon.

We had previously watched the movie “Whip It!” and I had loved it. It was an interesting experience for me, because I realized that though I liked Bliss, the main character played by Ellen Page, I did not relate to her the way I would have even 10 years ago. Watching then, as a mother with 2 elementary school kids, with a career of my own, I could remember what it was like to flounder to find my own way in life. And yet now I was engaged in a different kind of finding my way, trying to prove myself in a new place and a new job. I related more to Kristen Wiig’s character Maggie Mayhem, a mother who was trying to juggle the many needs pulling on her. But it was not the human characters that so fascinated me in the movie. It was the Roller Derby.

Prior to watching “Whip It,” I had no idea such a sport existed. I vaguely recall there being a televised games on after pro-wrestling, but neither were something that appealed to me at the time. And it never would have crossed my mind that the sport might be going through an enormous growth spurt.

I quickly determined that there was a flat-track Roller Derby league in town, and we went to a bout. The music was loud, and the hits were hard. As I sat there watching these women skate around the track, colliding with each other, falling, getting up, skating more, I yelled over the music to my spouse “I want to do THIS!”

Just a few weeks later, we were at the local St. Patricks Day parade, in which the team was participating. Like a scene from a movie, one of the skaters came right up to me, shoved a flier in my hand and said “Have you ever thought about being in Roller Derby?” Why yes, yes I had.

The flier indicated that the information session was on a Sunday, and that bootcamp training was on Sunday mornings. This caused me a moment of despair, since Sundays are a prime workday for me as the sole minister in a congregation – definitely not something I could just work around. But I looked on the calendar and saw that the information session was on one of my Sundays off, so I thought maybe I would go and check it out.

So there I sat.

And sat. I worried about what people would think if I actually went through with this. I worried about how my congregants might react. I worried about what the skaters might think when they found out what I did for a living.

But then I began to think about all the times fear and anxiety had kept me from doing something, whether it was something relatively small like trying a new restaurant or talking to someone new, or something larger I had always wanted to try, like skydiving or doing a study abroad in college. I thought about my daughters, and what I wanted to model for them. And I thought about what I would say to a congregant who came to me with a similar quandary: “Will you regret it more if you don’t check it out?”

Finally, it was almost time for the session to begin. I knew it was time to get out of the car and walk through those doors. But those first steps into the unknown? They are so difficult. They can be the most difficult steps we take.

I remember those steps. I remember getting out of the car, and closing the door behind me. I remember my heart, pounding with anxiety as I walked across the parking lot towards the doors of the rink. I remember that the first door I tried was locked, which was almost enough to make me give up. But I had seen other people going in, so I tried another door, which thankfully opened.

And then I heard something that instantly made me more comfortable. A woman cried out “Yay, Rookies!” as several of us looked around confused. She pointed to where the orientation session would be and off we went.

I am often my own worst enemy. As I sat in the car, I had been telling myself a story about how I didn’t belong there at the rink because I was too old, or too out of shape, or too whatever. And that story almost stopped me from doing something that would turn out to be one of the most formative experiences of my life. Almost.

Instead of letting that voice of anxiety be the last voice, I managed to gather up my inner resources and get out of the car and walk in. It may sound crazy, but it was one of the hardest things I have ever done by choice.

Someone once tried to describe to my child what it means to brave. “It means not having any fear,” she said. But that is not right. Bravery is not about the absence of fear, it is about overcoming fear.

Was I being brave the way soldiers are brave when they go into battle? No. Was I being brave the way a parent is forced to be brave when dealing with a child with a terminal illness? No. But that does not mean it was not a form of bravery nonetheless. I was taking a risk. And risking is a way of being brave.

Taking a risk means doing something even though you know you might fail. It means being ready to not only accept, but embrace failure. It is in taking risks that we experience some of the most profound growth as human beings as we learn about the limits of what we are and are not capable of.

When we are afraid to take risks, afraid that we might fail, we are often telling ourselves a story. The fear of failure comes because we don’t want to be seen as vulnerable, or as lacking somehow. We don’t want others to see our limitations, to see that we are only human after all. So often, we want to project this image that we have all our shit together, that we are strong and capable. We shy away from anything that might threaten our ability to project such a mirage.

The paradox is that we can not get all our shit together, develop strength and resilience, become the amazing people we are capable of being without knowing what it is like to fail. Which means taking a chance, taking a risk.

One of my favorite quotes ever, perhaps one of the most influential quotes in my life if I were to think about it, is from author Marianne Williamson. She writes:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

It might seem like a stretch to say that getting out of my car that day was a way of letting my light shine, but it was, even if no one saw it other than me. Everyone who sat there during that orientation was nervous – some more so, some less. None of us knew what to expect. And yet we had managed to overcome our fear.

I have found that, at times of deepest fear or anxiety in my life, times when I feel almost immobilized, I am able to recall those minutes in the car. If I can do that, I tell myself, I can do anything. I choose to try to live my life, not without fear because that is impossible, but constantly overcoming my fear.

It was on that day that Liv Fearless was born – on that walk from the parking lot to the doors of the rink. She was born during the orientation, when I saw that the bootcamp practices were Sunday morning and I resolved to ask if I could get some sort of special dispensation due to my work schedule (I did, and I did!). She was born to help me overcome my own anxiety, to take risks, to let my own light shine so that others might do similarly.

problems with being on the fringe.

15 Aug

This blog entry originally appeared over on The Lively Tradition

I have heard Unitarian Universalist congregations described as “Islands of Misfit Toys.” This metaphor comes from the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV show from the 70s that many of us are probably familiar with.

The problem with acting as though we are islands of misfit toys is that we just stand around doing nothing. Toys are meant to bring joy to peoples’ lives. Television viewers celebrate when all the toys leave the island and go find homes where they can live into the fullness of their creation. If we, as Unitarian Universalists, relegate ourselves to the fringe, to being islands of misfit toys, then we are not out there living into the fullness of our past, present, and future.

Taken one step further, if we want to be about cultural transformation, we cannot abdicate our power by putting ourselves on the fringe. We need, instead, to be out there, amongst people, speaking the language of the culture that we are trying to transform. Goodness knows they need us actively loving the hell out of the world, particularly in weeks like this when hell is on display in every window.

A few years ago, I saw an increase in my colleagues taking Spanish lessons as we prepared to have a very unique General Assembly in Phoenix. We wanted to be able to speak to people on their terms, about their lives. This is as it should be.

Beyond Phoenix, and beyond Spanish, I believe we are uniquely positioned to be multi-lingual. We have the ability to speak to those on the fringe (where many of us, are, frankly, more comfortable). AND we have the ability (if we are willing to claim it) to speak as peers to those in power.

If we, as a faith tradition, are content with being on the fringe, then we might as well write our obituary. Not only will we not be about cultural transformation, but we will have lost our way entirely. Let us instead use our power and privilege in solidarity with those who need it. So many do.

 

Comments redirected to The Lively Tradition.

being part of Christendom, pragmatically speaking.

30 Jul

This is part 2 of a blog exploring Unitarian Universalism’s location in relationship to Christendom (that is, the world of Christianity).  Tom Schade graciously hosted the first part at his blog “The Lively Tradition“.  Since I wrote that first part, I’ve been thinking about the next logical question: So what?  So what if UUs are a part of Christendom?

Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship

One way to address the “So what?” question is to look at what it means internally.  Does being a part of Christendom affect our congregations, our people, our mission?  I believe it does.  I have sometimes heard people describe UU congregations as places where “We welcome people with all sorts of theological beliefs…except Christians.”  Indeed, many of our congregations are hostile places for UU Christians.  This closes these congregations off to religiously liberal people for whom the definition of Christian may be quite broad and inclusive; people who are looking for what we uniquely offer.  Since we have not disassociated ourselves from Christendom, the hypocrisy of these congregations is glaring, and irrational. It is hampering our ability to live our mission. It is hampering our ability to get our saving message to those who so desperately need it.

As an aside: I am sure someone will correct me if I mistaken, but it seems to me that our congregations in the South are a little bit better (on the whole) at welcoming a liberal Christian.  Perhaps it is because of the deeply religious culture that they are surrounded by.  I think this is especially notable, as it is in the South and the Bible Belt in which our congregations are experiencing the most growth…

Getting back to the issue at hand: There are also external ramifications to being a part of Christendom.  For one, it gives us not only the power to critique others who reside in Christendom, it also gives us the authority.  Let me explain with an example.  First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans recently had an encounter with Operation Save America, wherein OSA disrupted First UU’s worship service and harassed the church members.  There is a wonderful interfaith letter written to the New Orleans Advocate about the event.

An OSA member briefly put a YouTube video online, with footage he had shot during the encounter and his rationale for what/why they were doing it.  In it, he shared that they were disturbed that the UU “church” (their quotes, not mine) was actually a cult and was leading children astray, etc, etc.

Now, if we had disassociated ourselves from Christendom, then we could critique their actions and subsequent justification, but it would be coming from an outsider position, speaking mostly to our own experience of the encounter and the pain it caused. It might have power, but it would not have authority. But becuase we have not disassociated ourselves from Christendom, we can stand with both power and authority and firmly say “You do not hold the monopoly on what it means to be Christian. And you behaved in a manner that was decidedly not Christian.”  We can pull rank, as it were, as our faith tradition is older than the belief in the rapture, a hallmark belief of Christian Fundamentalists.

The “So what?” question also leads me to reconsider how our congregations relate to other religious organizations when working for social justice.  I was moved by this year’s Ware Lecturer  Sister Simone Campbell to reconsider my response to an ecumenical organization that had contacted me wondering if the church I serve would be interested in joining with them.  I responded then that since they were not an interfaith organization, I could not in good conscious recommend this to the congregation.  I have since reconsidered and hope to start a conversation with the congregation I serve about joining this organization as soon as I return from my sabbatical.  This ecumenical organization is doing amazingly good work. It is our loss for not participating.  And…

This leads to a final “So what?” So we might be able to change the conversation, provided we stay in it!  Perhaps we can help that ecumenical organization become an interfaith one, but that is not going to happen if we continue to absent ourselves from the conversation.  Unitarian Universalists are notoriously uncomfortable with our  collective privilege.  Being a part of Christendom is a privileged position in this country, so it is not surprising that we have tried to distance ourselves from it. Especially with Christianity becoming synonymous with fundamentalism (something that is driving many Christians crazy).

Those of us who are in places of privilege (or perceived privilege) in our individual lives are learning to use that privilege to be better allies, as is demonstrated in the video below. As a faith tradition, Unitarian Universalists can collectively use our privileged location within Christendom (no matter our personal theological bend) to become a force that cannot help but impact the future of Christendom, and beyond.

That is why it matters.

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