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A FAITH WITH FEET

How to articulate the Unitarian Universalist message more succinctly? When asked the question, “What is it you guys actually believe?”, the response is often times begun with “well”, “um”, or an occasional pontificating that renders the listener bleary eyed.

Of course, the question itself is a misguided one.  You do not have to share a certain belief or set of beliefs to be a part of our liberal free thinking faith tradition. Instead, a soundbite answer (which our culture has a penchant for) is this: “We are a faith with feet.” A cornerstone of modern Unitarian Universalism is SOCIAL ACTION.  We place great value on living out our faith in works of love and justice and efforts on behalf of the most marginalized in society. 

It is well for us to remember this. One of the major forces in 20th century theology, a tireless proponent of social action and volunteerism was Unitarian minister, social activist, writer, and scholar James Luther Adams (1901-1994).  

A Harvard and Andover Newton professor for decades, popular with his students for his unabashed passion and candor, Adams vehemently fought against the tendency of religious liberals to be theologically content with vague slogans and platitudes about open-mindedness.  He believed, having witnessed the atrocities of WWII, that liberal churches must dig a little deeper or they would be rendered irrelevant and impotent in face of the world’s evil. He stated this conviction loudly and frequently.

Adams advocated volunteerism across a broad spectrum of issues as a powerful and necessary component of an authentically free spirit in a free church.  He penned many  essays and articles focusing on the theology of voluntary associations and social ethics, on topics ranging from politics to the grotesque in the arts to AIDS. 

He spoke with his feet as well.  Adams was interrogated by the Gestapo and almost thrown in prison while in Germany under the Third Reich for his association with the Underground Church Movement.  Using a home movie camera, he filmed Karl Barth, Albert Schweitzer, and others, to spread the underground resistance to the Nazi regime.  

At home, he worked tirelessly for an independent grassroots political organization whose goal was open and honest government.  He interpreted participation in voluntary associations, whatever the character of the government, as the chief means by which beneficial social change has been effected throughout history, and as key to the meaning of human history. 

James Luther Adams described the free church as “a body of believers freely joined in a covenant of loyalty to the holy spirit of love, intentionally inclusive of dissent, governed by its own members and fiercely independent from government control, with the reign of the spirit of love among members to be seen in their voluntary assumption of responsibility for the just character of their whole society.”

His influence continues to extend to the many institutions his former students of many faith traditions now serve, some with high distinction.  He was impatient with lifeless abstraction and wanted to know what you were DOING, what are your stories, about how your service work is working or not, what are the struggles? 

This is at the heart of our Unitarian Universalist faith.  To be worthy of our rich religious history, we must strive to be nothing less than a faith which is intellectually accountable and moves the spirit to action.  Pledge to be doing something that calls to your heart and helps to heal the world.

Sacrifice Doesn’t Have To Be Grandma or a Live Chicken

Piggy backing on my last post, I was thinking about the word sacrifice, which always means a giving up in some way or the other, and how it has lost the better half of its meaning.  The word sacrifice-Latin sacrificium-means an offering to a deity or to something greater than one’s self, rendering the person(s), place or thing involved- sacred. The whole idea of sacrifice has become  antithetical to our current American culture of consumerism. It’s made even worse when fear mongering makes citizens actually frenzied with the idea that Grandma will be the first to be killed with the National Health Care bill.  OMG, the sacrifice will mean that our children and children’s children face certain bankruptcy. Whether it’s a government official or a family member asking us to make sacrifices, either  for a greater good that we won’t see until the future or for a temporary setback that’s here with us right now, we tend to squirm or bargain or unenthusiatically agree to it (knowing it’s the right form of action) and then shortly thereafter, kick and scream, taking to the streets with how unfair it is.  

And yet, a truly just society demands some sacrifices.  Our commitment to social justice, while deeply felt, can be very difficult to sustain.   This is particularly true in a society that has valued and prized individualism since its conception.  Unlike other cultures, where the community needs are primary (and this too can be problematic), our understanding of the self in relation to the community tends to focus on the community being there to help forward our own self realization and not the other way around.  I do believe, however, that we are currently in a phase of positive but disorienting transformation.

We can no longer avoid the growing sense of interdependence of the world’s population. Reality at its core, whether spiritual or physical, has a relational nature.  Nothing can be fully understood or experienced in isolation. When we ignore any kind of shared reference point, or the ability to see beyond the end of the nose on our face, we see the degeneration of public discourse.  Talk radio, FOX news, to name a few, have resorted to slander, inaccurate sound bites, and mean spiritedness to buoy up a world view that is not on the side of creation. In the wild current of cackling voices, we lose both content and the possibility of real understanding. While it may not be possible to agree on universal truths, this doesn’t mean there are no meaningful ideas or truths.

As Paul Raiser writes in Faith without Certainty, ” The truth is that we don’t first exist as individuals who then form social groups.  The group always comes first.  As individuals, our identities are always formed in relation to a particular social context. We are social beings through and through. Can we look at social justice work not simply as choice we make for ourselves or do not, but as a fundamental factor in the formation of our own identities?  We think we need to attend to our own well being to be able to help someone else, and this is only partially true. We can also be reminded that our own well being is deeply connected to the well being of others.”

For Christians, this is the season of Lent.  It is a time of consciously giving up those things that are superfluous to our lives.  It creates space for the sacred. One chooses to sacrifice, because the benefit to the mind and spirit is greater than if one did not.  It is not that the giving up of chocolate or alcohol is a chit to get to heaven.  Or that daily choosing to do a kind act without anyone knowing of it makes you a better person than your neighbor.  Rather it is by sacrifice, that we come closer to understanding and participating with the sacred.

Book of the Day: The Responsible Self by H. Richard Niebuhr  

Quote from the Book of the Day: “It has often been remarked that the great decisions which give a society its specific character are functions of emergency situations in which a community has had to meet a challenge.  Yet the decision on which the future depends and whence the new law issues is a decision made in response to action upon the society, and this action is guided by interpretation of what is going on.” (Ed. note: Our forebears had to determine what was happening during the Civil War (End of Slavery and the importance of union), how to address the ills of the Depression (The New Deal and the Welfare State), and what was the response to be to the First Two World Wars (a final move away from isolationism), all of these decisions made our country change in ways no one could foresee, and today’s decisions are no different.)

Nun Tuck’s Almanac

Welcome Congregants of the Blogosphere!

You have stumbled upon a brand new blog. It is a sometimes serious, but always real attempt to return religious vocabulary back to its rightful roots. And if the roots are rotten, we’ll creatively reimagine these words so that they work for us now, in the 21st century.  You know many of the major religions as well as secular humanism tout  lofty goals, such as moving towards a harmonious interdependence of the world’s inhabitants (since forever), whilst quibbling over dogmas and dictums.  Here is where they can come and get a soft nudge or a solid knock upside the head, depending on whether they are the feather or the 2×4 variety of person, and we can get comfort or empowerment or meaning or whatever it is we’re looking for.

This almanac will include, but is not limited to:

* Providing you with brief but accurate and researched information about particular aspects of the world’s religions to fodder questions and discussion (will vary daily on how the spirit moves me.)

*Sharing my own personal musings on the sacred journey or anything related to the collective spiritual quest (this could mean outlining various meditation techniques or what it means to be in a faith community or probing the nature of serendipity…).

*Religion is a word that has been used and misused ad nauseum.  Its definition, its meaning, is very simply that which binds us together.  The religion of this blog is: compassion, an openness to others’ beliefs and ideas (or at the very least, let’s not get nasty) and exploring ways to engage in the simple daily practices of spiritual fitness.

Finally, while I am a highly trained theologian, you can try this at home.  I can wax theological with the best of them, using big academics words like hermeneutics and exegesis, and I like to, at times.  But mostly, people’s eyes glaze over.

I am committing to blogging daily while reserving the right to an occasional lapse, for excuses such as : the Sabbath (everyone needs a rest), illness that raises my temperature or upsets my digestive tract, a paying gig, or a TIC (Teenager in Crisis, one of mine).

My oath to you: I will not daunt, I will not proselytize. I take my opinions seriously until I change them, at which point, I take those opinions seriously.

What about the Name?

I am Nun Tuck, because I can’t be Friar Tuck.  I’m a girl, and while I’m not a Catholic and only play a nun on this blog, the Good Friar and I share four important things in common:

1. I too would much prefer the company of a community of outlaws enforcing a little social justice to a band of self-satisfied complacent Sunday morning hypocrites.

2. Now while stealing from the rich to give to the poor may sound to some as Anti-American sentiment (can you say “Bolshevik Plot?”) many of us are sufficiently outraged by the unadulterated avarice of the past several years/decades to think this perpetually populist idea particularly poignant (take that, Peter Piper).

3. Both of us enjoy a full glass or two from the fruit of the vine (not too picky about the vine) served with any generous volume of carbohydrates.  We continue to attempt to live simply and faithfully (lots more on future blogs regarding this) but alas, the flesh is weak.

4. While friendly and gregarious (we are in the business of saving souls after all), we are fiery by temperament.  Friar Tuck was expelled from his order due to a lack of respect for authority, and I chose to leave my childhood denomination as the chasm between the choices made by the church’s hierarchy and true care and concern for its people became too great.  If authority wants to be respected, it has to earn it.

The Almanac is simply a nod to another historic figure, Benjamin Franklin (one to whom I give Rock Star status) and his version of an 18th century blog of sorts, Poor Richard’s Almanac.

Tomorrow’s post: “Does it matter what you call yourself?”

Book Pick of the Day: Bird by Bird by Annie Lamott

Quote from the Book of the Day:  “My Al-Anon friend told me about the frazzled, defeated wife of an alcoholic man who kept passing out on the front lawn in the middle of the night.  The wife kept dragging him in before dawn so that the neighbors wouldn’t see him, until finally an old black woman from the South came up to her one day after a meeting and said, ‘Honey? Leave him lay where Jesus flang him.’ And I am slowly, slowly in my work-and even more slowly in real life-learning to do this.”