Thursday, March 31, 2011

UU Faith Formation: Congregations into Seminaries

Unitarian Universalists are officially fans of life-long learning. From the very early days of both Universalism and Unitarianism, we’ve had an emphasis on faith development and spiritual growth. Like other practices, how well we live that is a work in progress and varies from place to place. Many of us would like to see more depth offered in our congregations, more spiritual formation past the initial introductory things you need to know to get by, stuff that that feeds people past the early teen years and takes us on a great journey. The short-hand phrase for that kind of congregational cultural offering as a standard way of existence is: turning our congregations into seminaries.

But wanting and doing are two very different things. The good news is that tools to make such education accessible and meaningful, even in smaller congregations, are now widely available. We just have to use them and share them with one another.

Our curricula presume no or limited additional preparation, training, or accountability. There’s a point in faith development when that is insufficient, and we need people who’ve done more work, are held to particular educational preparation standards and methods, and have experience in teaching in the risky and vulnerable places of faith formation.

But we can create a network of faith development professionals willing to offer distance education programs. I imagine a call out to the Unitarian Universalist professional religious leaders would result in people with the educational backgrounds we need. A covenant of practice and a way of mentoring educators as they grow in the experience of distance education would strengthen this. I encourage the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) to take the lead on developing the covenant of distance education practice and mentoring educators.

We can continue and expand continuing education programs, via distance learning and in regions, for those who are and would be faith development leaders. We have some paths and accountability practices for folks called to professional leadership; we need to continue development of paths and accountability practices for those called to avocational leadership.

We more actively support the existing network of Unitarian Universalist Spiritual Directors. When engaged in the issues of faith formation, we come up against our own stuff. It really helps to identify that and work with a spiritual director, so we can be more centered and grounded and prepared to work with our students.

We can honor different teaching lineages within Unitarian Universalism as well as outside it. What these different lineages emphasize and how they teach are beautifully and wonderfully divergent. They speak to folks about the various paths of spiritual formation. One of the ways we can take the pressure off local congregations to be all things to all people is to make accessible as a whole the varieties of teaching lineages.

Invite folks to keep growing and changing, deepening and strengthening their faith. That’s the beginning, the path, and the goal. There isn’t going to be one way to do it, but many. Let’s support trying out using the new technologies to care for one another, to share the resources we have in a more equitable and responsible manner, and to grow bolding and courageously in faith.

5 Ways to Invite

UU Growth Lab weekly topics has two this week. First up: 5 ways to invite someone to your congregation. 

Congregations don’t grow if folks don’t find their way into the community and decide to stay. Unitarian Universalists would be notorious for disliking proselytizing except we’re not well enough known to be infamous. Sharing and inviting folks to your congregation need not be pushy. After all, if your religious home is a good home for you, why wouldn’t be it be others? 

Here are my five recommended ways to invite someone to your congregation.

To a project
We know congregations by their works and many of us, regardless of theology, test congregations out as to the depth of their faith by what they’re doing in the community. Shared sweat, tears, and dirty hands to make the world a better place excites people about living faith.

With cupcakes
Do not underestimate the power of an invitation coupled with freshly baked goodies. Many of us want more caring and sharing, belonging to a community in our lives. For many of us, for better or for worse, food is a sign and symbol of how well a community cares and shares. Food is love. God is love. Share the love of God and the love of your faith community with a cupcake. Life is sweet.

To a class or program
Unitarian Universalists belong to the religious tradition of salvation by education. Life-long learning matters to us. One of the easiest ways to invite someone who’s seeking a path of life-long learning to your congregation is, well, to a class or program. The class might be end of life planning or about a world religion or on a particular spiritual practice or on parenting or about life-long sexuality or…the possibilities are wide open, and they only need to match the interests of the person you’re inviting.

To a worship service
Sometimes I’ll meet someone who’s openly yearning for a place to worship. That’s when I invite folks to worship. I also invite people new to my community that I meet, when they are looking for a new religious home, and folks considering a change. I also often end up encouraging people to attend other religious worship services, in the course of conversation with them, but I keep wide the door to my own tradition.

As a billboard
I also invite people to engage with me religiously by sporting the symbols of my faith (jewelry, shirts, bumperstickers, pins, bags). I fall into conversation regularly about my religion simply because what I wear invites it. Sometimes I receive some negative comments, too, but that’s risking faithfully, and has almost always also resulted in other more positive engagement.

That’s my five basic invitations: to a project, with cupcakes, to a class, to a worship service, and as a billboard. All of them have introduced people I know to my religious home. All of them can be effective. All of them can be practiced in evangelism-shy cultures. Just remember: don’t underestimate the power of baked goods.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Inheritors & Seekers Growing Together

When people join a religion they haven’t belonged to before, both the religion and the people joining change. Religions seeking new members need to be ready for that. Folks seeking religions new to them need to be ready for that. Usually, the classes for new folk focus on passing along core practices, teachings, and culture – the traditions that are passed heart to heart, hand to hand. These classes are the changes seekers are yearning to meet. But the other part – where the community and religion are changed by the people joining – is usually less well documented and often less visible unless you’re in the middle of a congregational, denominational, or religion-wide conflict.

When people stick with the religion into which they were born and raised, they generally like what they have as is, may wrestle with coming to terms with it a few times over the course of their lives, but stay for faith and for community. Religions are stable in as much as they have stability of membership. Even with core teachings and practices, what’s emphasized within those teachings and practices can and does change from culture to culture, generation to generation. Before arguing about that, go review your religion’s history. It hasn’t always been as it is now.

The troubles of too many new people in a religion are: too rapid change to keep the religion recognizable to elders; a focus on introductory religion and not enough depth to carry people further in faith development; sharing any religious wounding and making it normative; and bypassing the depth and history of the religion.

The troubles of too many faith inheritors in a religion are: assuming folks know the culture and allowing rules, teaching, and practice to be unstated; being so deeply connected to that which is transcendent of time and place that relevance to today’s issues isn’t a concern at all; losing the ability to express what strengths your religious tradition can offer to others; closing the club doors.

Spiritual growth calls us to life-long learning and changing, while also asking us to be faithful to who, what, and where we are. In that tension, we can have some fruitful development for everyone. In that tension, we can be shredded by insistence on one way or another.

What’s really most important to you about your spiritual/religious life? Any non-negotiables? That’s the core of your spiritual life. How close is it to the practice of your wider religion? Does it need to be?

What might you learn from the new folk at your congregation? What if the number of new folk suddenly outnumbered the long-time attendees? (That’s the experience for my denomination, Unitarian Universalism, which has a core of life-long and multiple generation members, but is hugely made up today of people who’ve joined – despite the numbers of members being roughly the same as fifty years ago.)

When have you belonged long enough to be part of the established side of your faith? What’s great about that? What’s potentially hazardous?

If you’re newer in your religion/spiritual tradition, take this week to reach out to someone who’s been around a lot longer – like inherited the tradition from several generations. What might you learn? What might you teach?

If you’re an inheritor of a religious/spiritual tradition, take this week to reach out to someone who’s been around considerably less time – say, under five years (after five years, folks usually have a reasonably good sense of the culture). What might you learn? What might you teach?

If your heart is beating, you have something to offer the world. We can learn from each other. But it takes practice and effort to do that. Why not try this week?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Answering the Call for Young Adults & Congregations

The UU Growth Lab on Facebook this week has been buzzing about shifting congregations where there are few or no young adults to ones that are vibrant multigenerational communities with many young adults.

Mission and self-awareness lead the way, which makes sense. How can you reach out & embrace when you don’t know who you are and what your calling is?

“At 1stUWorcester, we adopted as our strategic vision for 2015 that we would become "the church of the next generation of religious liberals in the Worcester area." The first step is to explicitly state your goal in terms of empowerment. Perhaps a church should explicitly state that "we will empower young adults to represent/fight for/embody liberal religious values in our culture." Choose your own words, but state your intention.”--Tom Schade, 1stUWorcester

“Know who you are as a congregation and why you matter. The young adults I encounter as guests at our church are attracted to a religious community of free faith, where they are given the space to articulate what they believe and how they want to be in relationship with matters of ultimate worth and/or God. All ages are begging for these resources- leadership development, faith development, and mission driven leadership that makes space for transformation and sets goals toward spiritual maturity.” – a religious leader

First, this needs to be supported by the entire congregation. It will be more difficult if it's just one or two people in the congregation thinking "we need more young adults!" -- Tim Atkins, Atlanta

When we know our calling – like being the people of love transcending hate & welcoming all – then we can reach out in our local communities and act in some life-changing ways.

Bullying seems a prominent issue among young adults (and youth) today. Could we use this social justice issue to create places and groups where this can be discussed & support offered to the disenfranchised. I know LGBTTIQ 'Welcoming Congregations' wasn't chosen as this weeks topic, but how can a church offer relevance to young adults without concern for LGBTTIQ inclusion? ~Darrell Goodwin

We reminded each other about the power of human connections – in person and via participatory media. That also means recognizing, as one lab member pointed out, that just because how we become adults in the U.S. is changing doesn’t mean folks aren’t adults just because of where they do/don’t work, live, and learn or their personal relational status.

If you want to be welcoming to young adults, make sure the photos of people on your website don't look like its promoting a retirement home.... Just because you have all 50 - 100 year-olds doesn't mean you need to limit photos on your website to the same. -- Peter Bowden,

If you want to seem relevant to today's young adults, daily social media presence is suggested. i.e. twitter, facebook ~Darrell Goodwin

When my home congregation didn't have a young adult group we made sure to have regular dinners for Young Adults at the beginning of each semester. At a minimum we'd promote these events as a way to bring what few young adults we had together. Sometimes leadership would emerge from these gatherings and some YA programming would result. When those leaders graduated, we continued the dinners.
What resulted in the development of long term dynamic Young Adult ministry was launching a young adult component of the congregations small group ministry program. This served to integrate the group leaders with the adult community. These relationships were catalysts for community building between the young adult small groups and the other adult small groups.
- Peter Bowden,

If you want to hang on to people, any people, who visit your church, you need to have people talk to them, find out what they are looking for, and introduce them to the people in the congregation who can help them find what they are looking... for. Having friends in the congregation is the biggest factor in getting visitors to join.
I make it a point to talk to YAs who come in, to show them that their are YAs, even if we don't currently have a group. I also talk to them about other chalice circles and individuals that I believe they might find interesting, even just as a mention, to encourage them to meet more people and, hopefully, make friends
Tell young parents about a parents' night. Tell athletes about the softball team. Tell activists about the Justice Circle or the Habitat volunteers. Let them know that, even without a YA [Young Adult] group, there is a place for them in the congregation, and be williong to introduce them to the people who can help them get involved. -- Thomas Earthman

Becoming welcoming to young adults is no different than becoming welcoming to any other population. First, you must reach out to that population and indicate that you care about them and show them how you care. Second, you must be willing... to change the ways you do things so that you appeal more to this population. For young adults, this might mean exploring alternative worship service styles and times (such as Soulful Sundown), promoting active and engaging social justice projects, and ensuring that no congregational policy discriminates on the basis of finances. Probably most important, ask young adults what they want and listen to them! -- Jeff Liebmann, UU Congregation of Smithton PA

Work on your technology - your website is now how you present yourself to the world. I would argue that having a good, clean, professional, welcoming website draws more young adults to your congregation than a sign w/ interchangeable letters on the street. I looked around online for a couple weeks at UUism and UUCA's website before ever going. I even joined some public email lists for the congregation before ever going. After you get a good website up, then start looking at social media. You can be the most welcoming congregation out there as soon as someone comes in the door, but without a good website, not many YAs [Young Adults] will walk through the door.
Then I would find the youngest looking person in the congregation, and congratulations, you're now a greeter! -- Tim Atkins, Atlanta

A lot of the conversation has centered on welcome and worship. A lengthy greeting time – not singling out individuals, but whole congregation moving & meeting – was named as a powerful experience. That resonated for me. When I first came into a Unitarian Universalist congregation, the embrace of strangers during the time of peace conveyed in a very physical way my acceptance there. It was a heart-changer for me. Something else that mattered: the congregation worked hard to integrate people of all ages into leadership.

It's also been shown that congregations attract the demographic that is represented in the pulpit. Our congregation has a minister with a baby. And big surprise, the number of new families with babies or young children has exploded this yea...r. Your minister may not be a young adult, so you should consider including young adults in worship, and not just once a year. It's also important to include young adults in the leadership of your congregation - they aren't just tokens to fill the pews and round out the demographics ~ Kim in NJ

Creating a congregational attitude welcoming young adults - part of it is getting YAs in positions of leadership and visible in the congregation, but if you're talking about before YAs are there, then do exercises involving greeting each other, stepping outside comfort zone, instituting a greet your neighbor time during the service and make it awkwardly long. -- Tim Atkins, Atlanta

Jeff Liebmann, UU Congregation of Smithton, PA offers 7 great suggestions:
1. Encourage young adult UU’s raised through RE and youth programming to transition into adult membership. Fight for them and don’t simply assume that they will come back once they have kids.
2. Respect what lifelong young adult UU’s bring... to the table and don’t simply expect them to mold themselves to shape your church’s paradigms.
3. Not all people new to UU rejected another religion. Tone down anger and uncool intolerant attitudes about other religions.
4. Help UU singles connect and socialize.
5. Offer young adults of limited means the opportunity to “own” their church even if they can’t pledge large amounts.
6. Don’t encourage Coming of Age youth to sign the membership book until you have committed to them as full members of your congregation through adulthood.
--Jeff Liebmann, UU Congregation of Smithton PA

My top 7 suggestions for congregations:
7. Know your strengths as a congregation & build on those connecting with young adults in your wide community.
6. Embrace new relationships, including opening your home, & make new friends.
5. Keep your heart open, confront the difficult, and struggle alongside those who are struggling.
4. Ensure that there's a disciple-ship & leadership path open to change & that youth, young adults, & new folk in general are on it with those already present.
3. Shared ministry, shared voices in pulpit, teaching, justice, outreach, inreach, leadership. Empowerment & creativity for the yes church.
2. Be changed. Uncover null and implicit curricula. Be changed.
1. Be the church of love, hope, action, and joy.
-- Rev. Naomi King,

How is your community living out the call to be multigenerational and a place of spiritual growth and vibrant joy for young adults?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Love, Equality & Discrimination

Racial discrimination wears away at a person, day in and day out. How much will be expected today? How much distaste and outright hatred, how many experiences of invisibility, how nervous to be about encountering a “routine” traffic stop? When you have to tell people you love your daily route and carry more than a simple license or state i.d. to prove you belong, when security routinely stops you and searches your bag but not the other people your own age, when the only work you can get is under the table or in terrible conditions but it is feed your family or nothing, when arriving at the emergency room without speaking to you the admitting desk calls for an interpreter….and on and on. Will today be the day outright violence must be endured? Or will this be the day with subtler sandpaper against one’s soul?

Today is the International Day to End Racial Discrimination, established by the United Nations in remembrances of the 69 people killed at a peaceful demonstration against South Africa’s “pass laws” in 1960. Although today, the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has nearly universal ratification among UN member states, racial discrimination and racism is still strong in many places. Just ask someone who experiences overt and subtler forms of racial discrimination every day.

Paid sick days in the United States are one way we can measure the reality of racial discrimination.  When particular racial and gender groups are least likely to have paid sick days, we’re looking at job access discrimination and the reality that low-income families and communities are least likely to have access to jobs and policies that promote healthy families. Eric Rodriguez, vice president of Research, Advocacy & Legislation at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) sums up the reality: “Fair wages, a safe and healthy workplace, and paid sick leave are all part of the formula of job quality.”

The UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination calls on educational and cultural change, but it also points out the need for legislation in member states that supports equality, protects people regardless of race, and ensures the freedoms inherent to the Charter on Human Rights.

As a religious person I ask, how well are we doing loving our neighbors as ourselves? (Lev. 19:18, Matt. 19:19, Matt. 23:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9-10, Gal. 5:14, James 2:8).

Ending racial discrimination is a religious concern because we promote human dignity and freedom, equity and compassion. Discrimination affects everyone, whether it is enjoyable privileges at the expense of others or being the others who are denied. When we participate in systems that permit and promote discrimination, we’re complicit in that way of bondage and injury. What are you doing today to love your neighbor? To end racial discrimination in our society and around the globe? Where will you bring love to bear in creating equality for all?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why Religious Community Growth Matters

I believe in spiritual development, emotional evolution, and faith that grows and changes in relationship to our lives. That’s what I practice, what I teach, and what gives me hope for humanity. I know personally we can change and make choices in our discomfort and grief and anger for love and compassion, justice and equality, dignity and generosity. This is the most important kind of growth to me in religious community.

But doing so shouldn’t let religious communities press the self-satisfaction button and not serve the world, close the doors to people different from who’s already present and settle in and be comfortable. Those pratices work against the kind of spiritual growth and change that makes religious life valuable to me. Numerical growth invites us into being bolder and better community partners, teaches us how to live better with and love sacrificing for that greater mission, and grows our own hearts in surprising ways. 

If you love and appreciate your religious community, growth is also a way of showing and sharing that love and appreciation. You have a religious home, afterall, even if it is, rather like any human institution, flawed. I don’t hear people tell me they don’t bring visitors to their home communities because it is such a wonderful place that makes a huge difference in their lives, even though, by and large, that’s what I’ll hear about why they support their congregation and religion. I watch people wince about the things that irritate them. I listen to people say there aren’t many more folk “like us” around. That’s when we’re moving away from our larger calling to serve the world for greater goodness, in every sphere of life.

It isn’t enough to plant trees and interrupt violence in our neighborhoods, to support access to adequate clean water everywhere and to local food, to encourage human dignity and healing, to love our families and to live ethically. We fail when we won’t risk being changed by throwing open the doors – real and virtual – to our religious communities. 

 Numerical growth changes religious communities and if there is an unstated mission of self-service, that will be challenged and changed most of all. But when we’re truly living into our greater calling for love, equity, compassion, justice, dignity, and generosity, when we’re working for healing and hope in the world, then we embrace change and difference, and learn to love the discomfort that comes with changing for goodness. Religious life changes all of us.

The challenge for numerical growth is a problem for many faith traditions, and numbers show one in my own, Unitarian Universalism. But there is a strong body of people within who know the spiritual challenges and embrace them, and who want to transform not only Unitarian Universalism, but the world. A number of those folks have flocked over to the Facebook UU Growth Lab and the related labs focusing on aspects of growth. We want to grow and change for goodness with you. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Love Bigger Than Imagination

Universalism – the beliefs that we are all inherently loveable and loved, that we live in one world, as one humanity, and that G-d is too loving to condemn anyone to eternal damnation --  asks me to be a better person than I want to be and to believe in a love and justice bigger than my imagination. I love a faith that calls me to work for goodness, to keep trying, and to love and give more than makes me comfortable. I love a faith that takes me out of my comfort zone and insists I learn to love my neighbors and our differences, including the one where some of my neighbors believe I’m destined for hell and I believe that none of us are.  

Universalism matters to me as long as partialism condemns folks to exile and endless suffering. Why? Because the condemned are my people. I’ve been told I’m going to burn eternally so often, I’ve started to believe the person telling me doesn’t realize how that telling drives people away from a G-d whose love is bigger than human imagining.  The condemned are my people and I want to say to everyone who’s believed they’re condemned there’s are other heartfelt alternatives.

Universalism matters to me when I’m presiding at the funeral of someone who died in despair, feeling unloved and unloveable, and I listen to all these friends and family members attest to how that person was loved, in fault and frailty, but loved nonetheless.  Universalism matters to me because I’ve also prayed alongside people torn apart in their faith and hope believing they’ve lost family and friends to eternal fire.  If I’m wrong about universalism, then at least I’ve lived for greater love. Knowing myself before becoming a Universalist and knowing myself since then, I’m definitely a nicer person now. Not perfectly loving or perfectly kind – if you know me at all, you’ll know that. But I suspect you’d prefer me now too.

G-d didn’t make me queer or give me chronic illness to punish me. Health and sexuality have nothing to do with G-d’s favors. But because I have been condemned by folk I love and care about who feel that way, I turned to a religion that gave me hope again, for all of humanity. I turned to a love greater than I could measure, one that called me to find a way to be back in the wider circle of belonging. I call that grace.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Flame of Spirit Shining

  The bright light of spiritual practice is alive and well in the electronic sphere.

Unitarian Universalists light and extinguish a chalice in worship as a symbol of our faith. Many of us do the same at home as part of our devotional practice. On Twitter, we share daily chalice lightings and chalice extinguishings with the hashtags #chalicelight and #chaliceout .

Chalice lighting and extinguishing are opportunities to center ourselves, to invoke our highest values and aspirations, and to bless. Anyone can speak one. Anyone can write one. I recommend that they be under 100 characters for maximum re-tweetability. Below are the results of the March 2011 chalice lighting and extinguishing drive. Feel free to use them and to make your own.

Chalice Lightings

May we bring energy to goodness, be a spark for justice, light the world with love. #chalicelight - @RevSean Sean Dennison

Whatever I do, let it be done in love. #chalicelight - @tialucia Tiffany Cole

Shine out mercy, peace, love, and justice! Be light for the healing of this world. #chalicelight - @revnaomi Naomi King

May this light shine in the darkness, which cannot put it out. #chalicelight - @danielhayward Daniel Hayward

Today, may I remember to be the hands and feet of Love. #chalicelight - @TheMissionalist JF Crawford

May the flame we light remind us of the brilliance yet to be discovered in those standing in our shadow. #chalicelight @uuplanet Peter Bowden

Let this single flame bring light to our minds and warmth to our hearts. Let it reflect our hopes and cleanse our souls. #chalicelight @7OaksUnitarians Seven Oaks Unitarian Church

May I open my eyes and heart to the wonders illuminated around me. #chalicelight - @tialucia Tiffany Cole

With every act, let me ease this world’s suffering, with every song, bring joy. #chalicelight @revnaomi Naomi King

Flame of our faith, call us into the community of love and justice this morning & every morning. #chalicelight @revcyn Cynthia Landrum

May we be reminded today that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. #chalicelight @The Missionalist JF Crawford

that we might find a community to accept, challenge and support us; a tribe that feeds our flame. #chalicelight @tialucia Tiffany Cole

May this light shine on the smallest of things for which we have to be grateful. #chalicelight @tialucia Tiffany Cole

The light we kindle is the outward symbol of the glow of our spirits and the warmth of our community. #chalicelight @RevCyn Cynthia Landrum

may the flame of this chalice warm our hearts, purify our intentions, and illuminate the next steps on our path to justice #chalicelight @ChipRoush Chip Roush

May I see with the eyes of love today. #Chalicelight @TheMissionalist JF Crawford

May we open a place in our hearts for all who need relationship. #chalicelight @TheMissionalist  JF Crawford

By this light, may I be connected to joyful and loving thoughts, speech, and actions. #chalicelight @TiaLucia Tiffany Cole

The Lord lift up his countenance on you, and give you peace. Num 6:26 #chaliceout @TheMissionalist JF Crawford

Bright Joy lead us in the dance of wondrous love, now & evermore! #chalicelight @revnaomi Naomi King

On a day where the world feels so dark may we bring our own light into our time with others #chalicelight @RevDebra Debra Haffner

For a new day, new ideas and new ways to share our light #chalicelight @UUatHome Amy Peterson Derrick

Aware of so much suffering in our world, we light this flame as an act of hope held in the chalice of our common humanity. #chalicelight @RevSean Sean Dennison

may our prayers reach those our light may not. #chalicelight @TiaLucia Tiffany Cole

Spirit of life & love, focus your light within our hearts, help us to heal our hurting world. #chalicelight @psdlund Philip Lund

Strong Faith teach us forgiveness. Bright Faith show us the path of mercy to travel. #chalicelight @revnaomi Naomi King

Fire of our faith, fire our future. #chalicelight @revcyn Cynthia Landrum

Tweet by tweet may we together guide the @UUA into the future, like mosquitoes herding a brontosaurus ;-) #chalicelight @uuplanet Peter Bowden

Light of love & compassion, may your grace sustain us as we grow & change. #chalicelight @revnaomi Naomi King

May I seek to share the light love of love with all beings who cross my path today. #chalicelight @tialucia Tiffany Cole

March 2011 ChaliceOut Drive
May you be fully awake in this moment. #chaliceout – Kelle Snider

Go out to the world, making space for the Spirit of Life and Love to guide you in every word and every action #chaliceout – Alison Carville

We rest in the moment of knowing that the moment is enough. #Chaliceout @TheMissionalist JF Crawford

May we bear one another along with respect & wonder, love & joy. #chaliceout - @revnaomi Naomi King

As quickly as darkness overcomes the flame extinguished, may our actions bring healing to our hurting world. #chaliceout  @uuplanet Peter Bowden

may we open our eyes to that which only the darkness can show. #chaliceout @tialucia Tiffany Cole

May we show gratitude in all we do and give others reason to value our help and light. #chaliceout @erinfaye Erin Faye

In darkness may we see the bright light we carry inside ourselves. #chaliceout @tialucia Tiffany Cole

May the spirit of Love go with us all. #chaliceout @TheMissionalist JF Crawford

may i  learn to love & trust the dark moments; to be brave enough to keep returning to the mystery & the unknown #chaliceout @tialucia Tiffany Cole

Keep before me always these highest resolves, the light of understanding, the heart for peace. #chaliceout @revnaomi Naomi King

May we to seek and share understanding, insight and compassion. #chaliceout @erinfaye Erin Faye

Let fear & anger quiet & cease as we mercifully carry on this loving peace. #chaliceout @revnaomi Naomi King

May our blessings always remain illuminated. #chaliceout @TiaLucia Tiffany Cole

May we continue to grow in knowledge, understanding and love. #chaliceout @DangFool  Barbara Stoddard

Attend to the hurts of the world: be light and love in all you do. #chaliceout @revnaomi Naomi King

With the passing of those we love, may we be keep the legacy of their bright spirits burning. #chaliceout @revnaomi Naomi King

Light of Peace teach us to confront violence with hearts of courage. #chaliceout @revnaomi Naomi King

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Interrupting Fear

Aiding and abetting hate may be easy, but it isn’t just or helping peace into the world. But hatred arises from big fears and big fears are intimidating bullies that push our more peaceful and loving selves around.

There are very few of us who never suffer any fear. We need to be able to feel fear for those important times when fear helps us survive – like speeding us along to be able to grab that falling skillet of hot oil before it drops on the baby. But when our fears turn into demons taking up couch space and raiding the refrigerator at midnight, then fear isn’t helping. Then, fear is ruling over us.

Yes, religions and religious people are different. We believe different things, follow different stories, and teach different ethics. So too for non-religious people, who still have beliefs and ethics that guide them in life. Just because we’ve seen extremists who belong to a huge world religion or who belong to a particular nation does not legitimate fear and political maneuvering to heighten those fears of whole classes of people.

I’ve been afraid many times for my life. But when I’ve been most afraid I’ve also often been most surprised when I’ve been able to reach out and learn something about the people who are threatening me. . Getting to know someone else and the stereotypes I didn’t even realize I held, but which were fueling my own fear, are interrupted. Get to know me; some of the stereotypes you believe – consciously known or not -- can be interrupted. In the space of interruption, of pausing, there’s choice and perspective. We don’t have to return to fear. We don’t have to return to hate. We can change.

Unitarian Universalists invite folk to live in ever-widening circles of love and justice. To do that, we have to confront our fears and our hatred. We have to meet real people different from us and develop real friendships and appreciation of those folks and differences. The beautiful forest is more beautiful for all the diversity therein, so too for humanity. We are better and more beautiful in our diversity and difference.

Today, how will you confront your fears and embrace a greater appreciation of difference?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Changing Times, Risking Faithfully

What must Unitarian Universalists do/change in order to thrive in the next 50 years?

No matter how you meet the news these days, there’s no escaping the reality of social and economic revolutions that are connected to major technological change.  A few years ago we spoke about living in a knowledge economy, but the market has fallen out of knowledge – knowledge, historically expensive, is now very cheap. Public speaking – once the realm of a select few – is now accessible to anyone with a mobile phone – over 70% of the world’s population.

The Way We’ve Known
Unitarian and Universalist churches were part of the knowledge and wisdom culture that arose from Guttenburg’s movable type – the technological change that put Bibles into the hands of people becoming Protestants who would then go on to craft and speak and organize around their particular protests. In our case that was the unity of God, newly developing models of Biblical criticism (now old school, so check out the new schools to keep faith with our tradition), to remove fear of endless and arbitrary divine punishment, and to affirm that each and every person has inherent purpose and value, is loved and loveable. From there, we developed these Christian theistic humanisms into other models of humanism. But it started with a change that made the printed word more accessible to a wider group of people. That same movable type sped along revolutionary social and economic changes that resulted in mass dislocations and movements of people. Churches were meeting places for those of like minds and passions, places for sharing learning, spiritual practice, and fomenting social change. But the printed word being more accessible for all to read was not the same as being accessible for all to speak. One of the roles religious institutions exerted was in naming sources of authority and who could speak publicly for those institutions. In becoming such sources, religious institutions could become focused on asserting their authority of being right and on connecting groups of people who agreed with their sense of what is right.

Being Right
The arguments that have dominated Unitarian Universalism since consolidation in 1961 – and I’ll suggest contributed to the circumstances requiring consolidation – are ones about being right. Who has authority? What’s true? What’s false? These worries were, as they always have been in American life, part of the public arena. 

Warning Signs
The environment of being right posts lots of warning signs. Some of these signs may actually be visible, but mostly they’re part of a null curriculum – denied that they exist, yet strictly enforced by the group in charge of controlling what’s authority. For example, I once tried to help out in a UU congregation, and was strongly reprimanded for doing the wrong job. There were rules that I, as a newer member, didn't know even existed.

Another example: how do you feel about failure? How many people here love failure? Believe failure is a good thing, even if you’re uncomfortable with personally failing? Would agree that when you fail at something you feel shame?

How many agree with this statement?
Failure is Faith In Action

We’re in an age that is asking us to adapt and worry less about being right, about being perfect, about not failing, and take more risks, try more things, innovate, and be different. Being Different

The cost of not risking and innovating is now higher than the cost of not doing so. Because of technological change, we have massive social changes, which are spurring changes, as such things always have done, with theology, spiritual practice, and living our mission in the world. Why? Because as the world changes so does our mission, our cultures, and our experiences. We need to Risk Faithfully.