Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Thoughts on Beliefs

I

was thinking this morning about why I'm a Unitarian Universalist.

Well, it's not because I'm particularly radical. It's not because I'm ultra-liberal. Because I'm neither of those things. I don't go to every march in the D.C. Metro area. And I don't do things everyone else does. That's what some people think Unitarian Universalists are: anarchists or something who throw their bodies in front of moving police cars. I assure you, I've never met a Unitarian Universalist ("UU") who has done this. But if there are people who have, I'd like to meet them. I bet they'd be interesting to talk to.

I'm fairly certain I've been a UU for a long time. In the United States, Unitarian Universalism evolved out of the Congregational church. But its history goes back to the sixteenth century in Transylvania. No, we aren't a bunch of vampires. At least I've never met any at my church.

The UU tradition birthed in Concord Massachusetts has appealed to me since I was a sophomore in high school, a Catholic High school where an excellent English teacher introduced us to nineteeth century Transcendalism. From then on, I knew my beliefs were evolving, expanding. My classes in morality only enforced my conviction that we are here to do something other than just take up space and mind our own business. Living is not a spectator sport.

After about 20 years of mistrusting organized anything (believe me, I had my reasons), and having adopted Henry David Thoreau's and Ralph Waldo Emerson's sense of individualism, I decided to see if there were indeed others like me who believe every religion has something to offer as does every person. This was a big step for me. While I admired various churches and people with different belief systems, the idea of "church" scared me. I didn't want to be "converted" or "preached to" or "sucked in" or told I was some kind of evil person because I'd skipped church for so long. I had enough guilt in my own head that I had carried with me since childhood (because, for various reasons, I felt personally responsible for everything in the world), and I didn't need more.

After writing to the minister to ask some questions about the service, I read the information she sent me and finally took the brave step into the pretty little place called Bull Run Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

Well, I didn't get harangued. I didn't get manipulated. I didn't get hit up for money or for time or anything of the sort. But I did cry in the back pews because I felt like I finally found a place where I belonged. And because my Pastor is such an amazing speaker. And because no one tried to get me to think exactly the way they did.

Don't get me wrong. I didn't jump on any bandwagon or reveal my darkest secrets to the members or sign up for every activity they offered so I could cloister myself up in a church. In youth, I actually had considered becoming a cloistered nun but eventually decided I talk too much to do that. So I wasn't willing to make any such commitment now, especially because I'm married and have children.

I became what the church calls a "friend." Friends are people who attend the church now and then, maybe more, but aren't voting members. It's a free kind of free-wheeling association for those who like the church and what it represents but who don't want to "belong" to it. Some people stay "friends" for years. As someone who is always skeptical about group behavior, I was a "friend" for some months. Later, I joined. I've been a member now for a little over two years.

But it was the "Seven Principles" that really convinced me to join. These are the "tenets" of the UU tradition, and they were something I could live with as I continued to explore as many other traditions as I wanted to including my native Catholicism, belief in Hindu and Buddist reincarnation, the multi-faces of God and prophets, the meaning of the Jewish experience, the beauty of Islam, Native American beliefs, and more. The Seven Principles hold it all together.
The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Having studied world religions (though not as much as I would like), I appreciated that Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:
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 which create and uphold life;
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;
Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

I guess I felt like writing about this because it's important for me to organize my thoughts on how my own beliefs have evolved, where the roots lie, and how I've integrated my passion for "liberty and justice for all" into my daily routine. I love my country and my world and I will do whatever I can to preserve it and hopefully improve it for everyone's sake. No, this is not always a fun, easy or nice task, but it's what I want to do. And it takes some time and some strong words to get it done.

This entry needs to be longer because an evolution like this is so much more complex. But it's a reflective start. Introspection is fun.

Yeah, I know. MAJOR GEEK!

Disclaimer: My experience doesn't represent anyone else's, nor do my personal beliefs. I don't represent the church or any group within the church. And like any other member of any other church, I am certainly not the prototype of my congregation. Thank GOD!
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