Saturday, August 22, 2009

Does it Matter? You Bet your Donuts!

A friend sent me an email about a donut shop in Wichita, Kansas yesterday, and I was at first dismissive. But being, well, somewhat bored I clicked the links and immediately found out what makes a Blog interesting... it has to speak to the interest of the reader! Well, I like donuts, and odd donuts sold from an avant-guard shop in Wichita, Ks. (usually not avant-guard) was pretty good, and that the Blog author was on a mission to blog about donuts in an interesting manner was also a plus. But that the blogger talked about my home-town of Burns, a town of fewer than 300 folks in the middle of nowhere Kansas, certainly caused my interest to go up!
Now, the blog problem here is, there are only so many interesting donut shops in the world, and limited ways to make them sound different and exciting... so even with good, interesting writing the audience here tends towards the eclectic donut snob. And there are only so many folks from a town of 300 out there who are interested in reading about the small town... as my wife pointed out with her "I'm reading this why?" on both accounts.

So I'm awake at 2AM with this thought rolling around in my head... who's interested in a liberal religion Blog except those who are looking for a fight, looking to be vindicated (hey, he's on MY side!), or are from the small town that gets mentioned in passing? So what am I doing this for?

Well, what I'm doing this for is to clarify stuff that rolls around in my head in this business called religion, so that someone can disagree (hopefully with more thought and less malice), or find kindred in spirit (so we can work on the interest together), and so some small town folks can read the name of their burg mentioned in passing with a bit of relevance... evoking either of the first two reactions, or "I'm reading this why?" All are legit!

So to tonight's sleepless clarification! My first post was about Unitarian Universalist theology... in which I introduce Rev. David Bumbaugh's theological statement as a baseline UU theological frame to work from. One result of the statement is the realization that we, humankind, are related and dependent upon each other, and that this relationship extends to our ecology... the environment that we live in. And frankly, we live in most of the ecologies available on this planet due to our big brains, where most other creatures had to do some rigorous evolutionary stuff just to fill their cozy niche. We just waltzed out of Africa some 50,000 years ago, and adapted our way around the planet!
How did we do that? By using our brains to understand the environment we were moving into, and by cooperating with each other - recognizing and exploiting our fellow human's strengths/gifts in adapting to the land/environment. You see, our ancestors did not discard any tribal members because they were odd... no one was defined as outcast if what they brought to the tribe was a skill that added to the wisdom or technology of the group!
Let me explain... the world was big and challenging, everyone was needed that could add to the knowledge and muscle of a tribe for survival, and religion... yep, religion was about surviving together. Truly in sync with the meaning of the word... "to bind," to bring together as human in a world that we were physically ill-equipped to handle. We needed everyone... everyone's ideas, viewpoints, and talents to survive. There is no discarding of "different" if that difference adds to the collective wisdom.
In Carol Lee Flinder's book The Values of Belonging, she points out that in hunter/gatherer languages we know of, the closest equivalent word or words for "religion" are "the way we live." The way we live is to understand our world through many, many eyes and brains... take in as many opinions and thoughts and needs as there are "tribal" members, and work together to make our way in the world. The most important question is... who have we not asked?

In a conversation I had recently, I was reminded that our global economy is being run by corporate conglomerates and governments (and supported by corporate religions) using economic theories that have little to do with human mutual survival (and with this ecological survival), but all to do with enrichment of a few.
Our world is thought to be "conquered" and submissive, yet many of our "tribe" of humankind are in trouble... trouble even within the most supposedly successful economies of the world. I submit this is because we seem to have forgotten our original "religion." The religion of humankind says that no one is apart and can be discarded, says that the ecology where you live is important and must be understood in the many ways only listening to even the "least" of us can say, or it will kill you.
I think we are killing ourselves. Oh, not permanently, humankind will survive somehow. But the present way we live, without our "natural religion" that engenders affection for even rival tribes (because we know they fill an important niche), will continue to exploit the environment and enrich the few until it collapses... failing again and again, either economically or ecologically or spiritually. Our false human construct on top of the real ecology of cooperation with the ecology and each other is an engine for greed, racism and war.

I see our corporate religions supporting this eventual death, even promoting it. Thinking in the supernatural, removing us from ourselves and our ecology. Most of the religious structures of today promote being in "tribes" that are insular and self aggrandizing, sometimes charitable to the "other," but never listening to their wisdom, only looking for self promotion. What we take for religion today rarely challenges the toxic corporate structure they belong to... too worried about the proper worshipping of the unknown god to really care for humanity and its relatives, the earth and our fellow travelers upon it.

It seems humankind needs to look at what it means to be religious very seriously again, to look at which "religions" or philosophies actually allow more of us to be human within its structures, and which cull out those who are "not good enough" as part of a nationalist/corporate creed. We need to rally around the natural religions, those that give all of humanity a place in the universe, as a natural part of it and not standing apart. I believe Unitarian Universalism can be part of this (as it is a melting pot of natural religion), as can aspects of Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, Natural Humanism, Humanist Christianity and others that recognize our relationship to each other, and to the world around us.

Dang, didn't work someone's home town in did I...


Sunday, August 16, 2009

So Much to Talk About

I was looking at the UUWorld blogsite where they gather news and comments from many prominent and obscure websites, and I was struck by the breadth and depth of the conversations / discussions going on. I was also compelled to start my own corner of this conversation, with the start of this blog "Theoluugy." This is so I could quit getting up at 4am to write down ideas that were keeping me from sleep into word documents that would go nowhere... instead write them onto a forum where they might engender thought, if not some snickers! Might as well make it a little more dangerous! What's the use of all this seminary education without putting it to the test!

I chose the name "Theoluugy" because I am of the belief that Unitarian Universalism does have a theological basis or grounding that can be articulated. I think that this theology is made up of its pragmatic historical tradition, current knowledge of ourselves and the world / universe that we are a part of, and of a sense of the future... our mission and vision if you will. At least this is what I "know" so far, and I want to explore it further with my fellow UU's and others who see, or even "feel," that religion does not describe our relationship with some supernatural realm, but is the discovery and practice of humankind in relationship to the natural. Our continuing journey, or even evolution, in relationship with our fellow humans, with our ecology, and with the Universe.

To me, theology is the attempt to name and give reason to our relationship with the unknown, giving meaning to the known and our actions within. Theology names that which compels us to religious action, religion being "that which binds" and if ultimately successful, bind us with "all," and not just a special few.
Some people place human relationship to the unknown, or theology, within the boundaries of stories of special people who change our perceptions of being human, who have opened or re-opened avenues of behavior that allowed humanity to understand itself in a more complete way. Part of the theology surrounding Jesus for example, was started with his attempt to remove class and hierarchical structure from the Judaism of his day, opening up what it meant to be human to his religion, opening acceptance of different race and class and culture.
This radical acceptance of people, against the state religions of that time, would definitely be considered a step in the "moral arc of the universe" towards justice... and some would say, a glimpse of what "heaven" would be like. Of course, the theology surrounding Jesus was to become corporate and state run in time... so class, race and culture would become important as political tools to maintain control. But as with the Buddha and others, the core message is there to be gleaned, and religious thought can be recovered from the dregs of politics and commerce it hangs out with, even today.

So where does that leave UU theology? What explanation of relationship to the unknown do we have that promotes humanness, belonging to each other, our world and the universe? A piece of something held in our hearts and minds giving us a glimpse of "heaven," asking us to work towards justice during our stint in the moral arc?
I think a professor of mine, a venerable UU Minister (originally from and still Universalist in heart), has a glimpse of our theology, a "good place to start" if you will. I truly believe that our theology is one that cannot be the same for all time, but must change as we change, as our world changes. Our theology can only be like the quote of the Rev. L. B. Fisher when he said "Universalists are often asked where they stand. The only true answer to give to this question is that we do not stand at all, we move."
Our theology must move, but it is not random and it cannot be from nowhere. So I will start from here, from Rev. Bumbaugh's Unitarian Universalist theological statement as follows (I have numbered the paragraphs for ease of discussion. To see David's entire paper and considered responses to it go here):

1 We believe that the universe in which we live and move and have our being is the expression of an inexorable process that began in eons past, ages beyond our comprehension and has evolved from singularity to multiplicity, from simplicity to complexity, from disorder to order.

2 We believe that the earth and all who live upon the earth are products of the same process that swirled the galaxies into being, that ignited the stars and orbited the planets through the night sky, that we are expressions of that universal process which has created and formed us out of recycled star dust.

3 We believe that all living things are members of a single community, all expressions of a planetary process that produced life and sustains it in intricate ways beyond our knowing.

4 We hold the life process itself to be sacred.

5 We believe that the health of the human venture is inextricably dependent upon the integrity of the rest of the community of living things and upon the integrity of those processes by which life is bodied forth and sustained. Therefore we affirm that we are called to serve the planetary process upon which life depends.

6 We believe that in this interconnected existence the well-being of one cannot be separated from the well-being of the whole, that ultimately we all spring from the same source and all journey to the same ultimate destiny.

7 We believe that the universe outside of us and the universe within us is one universe. Because that is so, our efforts, our dreams, our hopes, our ambitions are the dreams, hopes and ambitions of the universe itself. In us, and perhaps elsewhere, the Universe is reaching toward self-awareness, toward self-consciousness.

8 We believe that our efforts to understand the world and our place within it are an expression of the Universe’s deep drive toward meaning. In us, and perhaps elsewhere, the Universe dreams dreams and reaches toward unknown possibilities.

9 We hold as sacred the unquenchable drive to know and to understand.

10 We believe that the moral impulse that weaves its way through our lives, luring us to practices of justice and mercy and compassion, is threaded through the universe itself and it is this universal longing that finds outlet in our best moments.

11 We believe that our location within the community of living things places upon us inescapable responsibilities. Life is more than our understanding of it, but the level of our comprehension demands that we act out of conscious concern for the broadest vision of community we can command and that we seek not our welfare alone, but the welfare of the whole.

12 We are commanded to serve life and serve it to the seven times seventieth generation.

13 We believe that those least like us, those located on the margins have important contributions to make to the rest of the community of life and that in some curious way, we are all located on the margins.

14 We believe that all that functions to divide us from each other and from the community of living things is to be resisted in the name of that larger vision of a world everywhere alive, everywhere seeking to incarnate a deep, implicate process that called us into being, that sustains us in being, that transforms us as we cannot transform ourselves, that receives us back to itself when life has used us up.

15 Not knowing the end of that process, nonetheless we trust it, we rest in it, and we serve it.

16 (This faith statement is not a creed. Neither this nor any other form of words will be used among us as a creedal test.)

From the Rev. David Bumbaugh's paper “The Marketing of Liberal Religion” presented May 10th, 2008 at the Unitarian Church in Summit, NJ

Yes, he says "We," and with it claims he is not alone, that others might agree with him... others that are UU, if not in name, in nature. David moves from our theological relationship of the unknown, our perceived existence and what we "know" about it in juxtaposition with our vast "unknowing," in statements 1 through 9 (?), to statements of what as human beings, upon perceiving this relationship, are compelled to accomplish in religious life.

I find this theological statement, this defining of our relationship to the unknown, to be compelling, and what is a theology (or a belief) if it is not compelling? I have my own thoughts about changes I would wish... for example, to make clear that death is a part of the "cycle of life" in statement 4, and therefore "death" is within consideration of the "sacred," allowing us our full human range of thought in understanding ourselves and the world around us... about "morality." It is with understanding death and its place, its reality, that our institutions of Hospice have come about, a small step towards humanizing the dying.

What I wish is that, like myself, others will recognize the sense and sensibility of this theological statement... and as I, begin to think how it might change to better reflect the knowledge of the moment and possible needs of the future, to become a catalyst for my own theological being, and religious action. I also want to understand the whys of dissent, does this statement challenge Unitarian Universalism as you know it? Does it challenge us to change? Does it ask us to define ourselves too much? Why? Who or what does it leave out, and why would it do so?

To go somewhere, one must BE somewhere. To stay Unitarian Universalist, our movement must understand that it is, by tradition exactly that, in motion. However we always started somewhere, with something, and discarded along the way what is dehumanizing, what does not tell us about our journey and evolving relationship in the world, and we added ideas and understanding that promote equality and freedom. In that becoming, we must continue to understand what we are "now," our place, our theology... so we do not become some random feel good "do whatever you will" shell... but grounded in our understanding of self, ready for the next iteration.