I begin this nine issue stint of writing with a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to share with you my insights and observations about Unitarian Universalist ministry. My intention is to contribute some understanding to the issues being discussed, share with you how ministry and our faith appears from Southern Florida, and connect you with the tremendous potentials for ministry and collegiality quickly evolving through the electronic information superhighway being built right on our doorstep. I feel especially honored to write for FDR because I was raised in the UU Fellowship of Newark, Delaware where my father, Conrad, is still a member.
The first thing I wish to do is throw my hat into the Enduring Center debate. I begin with accept and practice love because for me this is the Enduring Center of our faith. Universalism begins with a vision of an all loving God so won over by Jesus' sacrifice for us that salvation is extended unconditionally to all. To accept unconditional love, canonized as inherent worth and dignity in our P&P, can be a profoundly transforming, uplifting and ennobling experience. Unitarianism is deeply rooted in affecting an outer transformation of the world toward justice, equity and compassion honoring the Puritanr's inspiration of building a New Jerusalem in this New World. Bringing the being (accepting) and doing (practicing) together and finding the harmonious balance between them seems to me to be the wondrous yet challenging work of forging our new faith. UUism, let us be frank, is a very young faith and we shouldn't be at all surprised that it is still seeking to articulate its center. Perhaps in a hundred years when all of us are dead and gone, the issues raised at Convo will have been settled (then again maybe not!).
Being raised a Scientific Humanist in a UU Fellowship, I have spent a lifetime coming up with provisional answers to the Enduring Center question as I have attempted to answer the vexing question, "So, just what do UUs believe?" I haven't defined my answer by rejecting anyone's faith. (On the contrary, I have learned to stop rejecting other people's faith and seek common ground in experience and practice.) I like to think my answers come at least in part from being raised UU. I was raised on Sophia Fahs and Dorothy Spoerl. I came of age with About Your Sexuality. My first infatuation occurred at Murray Grove summer camp. When I moved to California at age 20 I joined the Palo Alto Unitarian Universalist Church in my first week of residence.
My UU Humanism was satisfying until I was gifted with an experience in 1980 of Transpersonal Love in a moment of relinquishment before what appeared to be certain failure and loss. This moment of objectless love for existence grew my heart three sizes and upset my intellectual apple-cart. This experience connected me with a reality that did not seem accessible from the UU mainstream of our faith. I found myself having to go outside UUism to attempt to understand what had happened to me. I found my best answers in the Eastern spiritual traditions of Theravadan Buddhist Practice and Psychology, Sufi mysticism, Taoism and the Hindu philosophy of Swami Vivekananda, Gandhi, Meher Baba and others.
I see part of my mission as a UU minister as building bridges to these rich living traditions, using them to help us develop the depth dimension of our own religious identity and the practical ways to cultivate it. But importing these traditions wholesale only serves to confuse us. There is much from the East better left in the East. Better, I think, is encouraging a process of creation which evolves directly out of our congregations informed and inspired by the ideas and practices of all the world's religious traditions. Rev. Sara Moores Campbell is doing some good work in this area with creating ritual. I see the UU Pagans very busy in this process of creating emotionally satisfying worship forms with varying degrees of success. There are many UU Buddhists experimenting with different forms of insight oriented meditation which I personally believe are the best bridges for Humanists and atheists over the supernatural issues and into inner self-discovery and transformation.
Geez, I hate it when people give long self important sermons in FDR in 9 point type and here I am doing it! (although this is Book Antiqua 12 point type which, by the way, ought to be the minimum!) Suffice it to say that I have only begun this journey of ministry (and FDR writing) and have much to learn. I hope to share the markings with you in a way that will kindle your own creative process which is what makes ministry so joyful and satisfying when the flames leap up and so anxiety producing and burdensome when the coals are cold.
Blessings to you, gentle reader, and may we all have a fruitful creative year of ministry.
This was published in First Days Record's January 1996 issue. For more information or subscriptions ($30/year) please write to:
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