Sunday, July 2, 2006
Scattered thoughts on a divided spiritual identity.
Jaume expressed some understandable concern about my comment that "I maintain a mildly bifurcated spiritual life in which certain deeply meaningful parts of my faith are almost never engaged by Unitarian Universalism." He wrote:
[I]f people have two religions, one that is the "authentic" one, the one that appeals to their innermost spiritual feelings, and then UUism as the liberal church that they attend because of some commitment to liberal values or because they like to visit an interfaith place for interesting conversation, or to hear intelligent sermons, then this is a death knell for one of those two places, and I think I know which one is the loser.
I have a response in two parts. First, I have never considered Unitarian Universalism "my religion." Unitarian Universalism is my faith community. As far as I'm concerned, the name is a term thrown over the broad variety of congregations, practices, and traditions affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association. It also describes a variety of traditions around the world that have identified themselves as Unitarian or Universalist or Unitarian-Universalist. Some people think of Unitarian Universalism as a religion on a par with, say, Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam. I don't think of it that way, but I can see that for many UUs their faith community is taking on characteristics of a new religious movement.
For me, Unitarian Universalism is more like a denomination than it is like a religion. And one of the peculiarities of American religious life these days is that many people are becoming post-denominational in their religious identification. One friend is a Mennonite who attends services at an Anglo-Catholic monastery; another is an Evangelical who attends an Episcopal church; another is a Lutheran who has been bopping around between UCC and UU churches; and I've been ever so slightly suspended between Episcopal and UU churches since I first visited a Unitarian church and an Episcopal church back in 1991. There are aspects of each tradition that I find very appealing — which is why I joke about the merits of the Unipalian Church ("creedless ritual"!). That's also why I think of my marriage as ecumenical rather than as interfaith: My wife and I share a religion, which we practice and understand in different ways.
The second thing I would say is that there will always be people for whom institutions and their traditions are not wholly satisfactory. I fully recognize that there are UUs who are convinced that Unitarian Universalism is the very best, most complete, most life-savingest, supercalifragilistic religion there ever will be. I respect and even admire that. Perhaps it's because I found myself at odds with the religion I inherited that I have never been utterly converted to the ism in Unitarian Universalism. I am quite devotedly a theological liberal; I have come to terms with the fact that I'm a weird sort of Christian; and I want Unitarian Universalist churches to thrive and I especially want liberal religion to get its mojo back; but I just don't expect to find my own values and deepest beliefs institutionalized completely in any one place.
Oh, one more thought: By acknowledging that there are parts of my personal religious life that take place outside of Unitarian Universalism, I'm not suggesting that Unitarian Universalist congregations and institutions can't serve or promote genuinely satisfying religious lives. I think they can. In fact, they do. But I am saying that UU congregations operate within an increasingly post-denominational world in which people bring a range of expectations and needs that a single institution may not be able to fulfill.
Part of what amazed me about my visit last summer to Taize in France is how that ecumenical community of monks reaches out to Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern-rite Catholic, and Orthodox Christians from all over the world. Taize provides a form of spirituality that doesn't belong to any one tradition but that enriches all of them. Those of us who feel drawn beyond our own denominational boundaries for spiritual direction, dialogue, prayer, or other forms of religious life aren't necessarily renegades — nor are we evidence that our own traditions are failing people. We may simply be finding ourselves drawn to the depths of multiple traditions.
The challenge for congregational leaders is to find and articulate a rich enough vision of the liberal religious life that many people will be drawn to it — including people like me, who are drawn to it despite the fact that it doesn't fully satisfy me.
Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 2 July 2006 at 9:54 AM