A Jewish Rabbi, a Catholic priest and a UU minister were discussing how they divide the collection plate between church use and God. The Rabbi said that he draws a circle in the middle of the room, stands in the middle of it, and throws the money up into the air. Whatever falls outside the circle goes to the Lord, and what falls inside goes to the church.
The priest said that he does something similar. However, he draws a line. When he throws up the money what ever falls in front of him is for the church, whatever is behind him goes to God.
The UU minister said that she also used a similar method for dividing up the collection plate. She throws up the money and she figures whatever God wants, God will grab.
It's funny how things can be absurd and yet speak truth. A view more congruent for both the priest, the rabbi and possibly the UU Minister might be that everything the congregation does should serve God. The only real question is which ways to serve hir. A UU Minister might also say that everything the congregation does should serve life and the real question is what ways to serve life are most appropriate for their congregation
It's the time of the year where members are talking about money, pledging and the budget plan for next year. Both my statements about money will be here on the front end of the sermon. I wish only point out that money is simply a tool to use to accomplish our goals. Budgets tell us what we value, what we prioritize. Today, I want us to remember or try to gain a big picture of who we are and what we are attempting to do.
This past month, I wrote a series of blogs which went out with the weekly newsletters. I was attempting to initiate a discussion about worship, spirituality, who we are and what we are doing here. Thank you to all who responded on and off line.
I am going to continue those conversations, and ask us to think about our religious identity, how the nature of UU religious identity requires change and renewal. And I'm going to talk about the importance of a religious emphasis in all that we do. I am going to remind us that our choices of how we identify and with whom we affiliate, have great impact upon how we choose to spend our lives. I will remind us that anything that we can accomplish will come out of our relationships. Lastly, I will emphasize the importance of commitment to the relationships and communities that we choose to be a part of. Okay, my emphasis is not just any community involvement, it's the value of involvement in this congregation and our UU religious tradition.
That sounds like a real sermon doesn't it? And I imagine not everyone is excited about that. We don't need the man to tell us what to do. We don't need religous authority. We don't need the bible, and we don't need God, or some white man's ideas of what God tells us we should do.
Does that sound familiar. Maybe it isn't said quite so harshly, but is that far from what you have experienced?
In our tradition we expect our leaders to listen to the needs and the values of the congregation. UUs question absolute authority, but some individuals and some congregations get developmentally stuck in unnecessary rebellion of authority. They live in denial of the role leadership plays in the health of any community.
Although our tradition doesn't recite one revelation handed down long ago, we do have wisdom and values to pass on to the next generation. We expect our leaders to emerge themselves in the wisdom and traditions of Unitarian Universalism. We expect our leaders and all members to learn from our past.
We also expect our leaders and our members to learn and listen to what is present here and now. We believe that revelation is continuous. Our truths often emerge out of long term ongoing multi-faceted conversations.
We expect our leaders and our members to listen and learn from the present day expressions of what is sacred and most important to us.
I say leaders and members, but in some sense UUism calls all of us to be and become leaders. This doesn't mean that everyone is expected to be board members. It means that in some way each of us is asked to move beyond passivity, to find some way to contribute to toward creating the world we want to experience.
We come together "to nurture souls and help heal the world. " But it's not enough to value the work that people do out in the world. In order for this congregation to be great, it must value the work it is done right here.
If you are working to save the rainforest, or to create peace and justice in your workplace, or advocating for quality education for our children, we celebrate and thank you. Furthermore, we want this to be a place that helps strengthen you in achieving your values.
But for this congregation to thrive and be a religious liberal beacon for generations to come, it will take valuing the work we do here together. We want people who will help us keep a sanctuary that blesses people and helps them to be a blessing to this world.
You know sometimes we UUs go so far to avoid sounding like we are telling someone what they should do, that we will also avoid saying what is important to us.
This applies not only to politics, but also to our religion. God forbid we acted like we were participating in something precious! God forbid we might express some religious zeal for what we are doing HERE. And god forbid that we asked anybody to participate in our religious traditions! (I am being sarcastic in case you didn't know.)
Valuing what we do here, means allowing yourself the time and actually doing the work to form a religious identity. It means admitting when we have knee jerk reactions to anything associated with religion. It means developing a vocabulary of religious terms and understanding what they mean in several cultures. It means education about various religious traditions, not just to borrow ideas and practices, but also to continue to shape our own sense of how we might practice our religion as a UU, and how we do it collectively. It means learning what traditions have been and are treasured by UUs.
Religious traditions? Wait, did I say religious traditions? Do we have religious traditions? If the presence of religious tradition vanished from some congregations, it was due to a forgetting of the value of being RELIGOUS liberals; not just settling for having a social club for liberals.
Valuing what we do here might mean realizing that the way you have been taught to think about prayer, meditation, God, and many other concepts and practices is not the only way to understand these terms or practices. It might mean allowing yourself freedom to be creative, curious even playful as you discover ways to be religious.
Valuing what we do here, might mean being willing to tell people about our congregation and our programs. Maybe it means displaying a flaming chalice somewhere so that people at work or where you live might ask you about it, and then being ready and able to tell them what it means to you when they ask. It means getting comfortable with inviting people to come with you to a service or church activity. BTW, inviting does not mean coercing. It doesn't mean tricking, or shaming or pressuring. It means knowing you have something that someone else might appreciate and be willing to share it with them.
UUs are developing new expectations for participation. A new religious identity might involve raising the bar. It might involve a baseline assumption that being a member means some basic things like regular attendance at Sunday service, participation in an adult RE program and/or social witness event at least once a year. We can offer people acceptance, and we can move beyond a lasse faire attitude.
Developing a new identity might mean working together to create a liturgical calendar. It might mean developing more consistency. Talking about what has been meaningful and making sure these things get repeated. It might mean trying some new kinds of service and programs. It could mean openness to establish some new traditions.
It might mean making sure that church activities really fit and serve the mission of the church. It might mean adding teaching, or worship components to preexisting events.
Some UU congregations have limited themselves to endless discussions of intellectual concepts. Some remain comfortable living in the realm of agreement or disagreement of ideas. Some of us wish we could live in the world of ideas. Then we could read, and discuss, and research and discuss without having to change.
Did you hear about the UU who died and didn't go to heaven. He was passing through the clouds, and he came upon a sign that said "heaven this way." But then he saw another sign pointing in a different direction. It read "discussion about heaven this way." Well there was nothing better that this UU liked than a good discussion. So that's the end of that story.
Don't get me wrong. I love a good discussion as much as the next UU. I am suggesting that religion asks us to go further. Done wisely, religion asks us to look at ourselves and make a change. This means occasionally leaving the realm of comfortable intellectual discussion in order to face the things that disturb us.
Our tradition asks us to examine our beliefs and determine if they are congruent with what we claim to value. We encourage each other to examine those beliefs that were foisted upon us. We encourage each other to examine our beliefs to see if they serve life.
If you have been here several years, and you still have all the same beliefs you held when you got here, maybe you aren't practicing Unitarian Universalism. Some of us assume that if we have so called progressive views, than obviously we are superior in consciousness than others. Some of us assume that if we claim to align ourselves with reason and science, than we are obviously automatically more aware, enlightened and conscious than people who place more emphasis on religious beliefs. Some of us may assume that "those people" need to examine their beliefs. After all we are already enlightened.
Such attitudes are not IMO, congruent with our UU tradition. Who needs enlightenment? We do. Who needs to examine beliefs in order to move them into greater alignment with our wisdom and deepest values? We do.
And I am not just talking about examining beliefs about Jesus? What do our words and deeds suggest we believe about ourselves and other people! What do our words and deeds suggest we believe about the meaning, purpose and value of life? What do our words and deeds suggest we believe about women, men, young people, older people, poor people, rich people, gays, lbtqs, people of color?
Like any other religious or spiritual tradition, UU asks something of us. We are not as different from the church down the street as you may think. Members here just like there can choose to talk the talk without walking the walk.
And like being a member at the church down the street, you shouldn't expect that you could do either the talk or the walk unless you took the time to learn the steps. Sometimes a new member can make a great contribution to the congregation, and I'm not just talking about money. However, you can't expect to gain all that our tradition has to offer in one month or even one year.
It takes effort to learn how to walk the walk. The quality of our religious life depends upon the quality of the actions and the learning and the practice of the people here. It's not just the spoken word, it is the experience of being here that teaches and influences us the most.
In order to participate in the good works of our religious tradition, it helps to gain a sense of this particular congregations vision of what good works would be. You can't give away gifts from Unitarian Universalism that you haven' yet received. It's worth spending time and effort to discover the worth of our tradition.
And I'm not just talking about studying history. I'm talking about gaining a sense of the challenges of UUism, and taking them. I'm talking about being willing to do the work to grow spiritually based on what you live and learn here. I talking about bringing spiritual practices into our work and relationships at the church.
I'm talking about learning to be like the rescue team from the story we heard earlier. We want to learn how to cut the ropes so that this big gentle precious creature, that is this religious body, that is ourselves can be free.
How could we grow and gain more clarity on what's important to us if we avoid everything that upsets us or causes us controversy?
We need help with the many challenges we face, and that is why we are here.
We want help with the many challenges we face. When we do our religious homework, we will have a better idea of our religious values, what's important to us. We will grow a new religious identity, and it will be a blessing.
May it be so.