Monday, September 25, 2006

What then, is our religious purpose?

(tagteam blogging with crankycindy)
I'm a progressive. A radical even. About my country, and my religion.

There's been a lot of chatter this last week in the UU blogosphere about religion in politics, or more accurately, UUs in politics. I've watched it with interest, because I cannot imagine walking a religious journey that did not involve a good deal of making the world a better place. In my world view, that involves not just hand-outs, but transformative social justice. In our culture, anything transformative must involve politics.

If our religious purpose, as a denomination whose people don't particularly believe in heaven or hell, is not to make our world where we live today a better place, then what is our religious purpose?

In the olden days when I was a fundamentalist, I might have turned to scripture, prayed a moment, and then plunked my finger down, demanding that G-d show me some clear direction by good old fashioned proof texting.

Maybe I'd drop an index finger on Paul's exortation that Christians were to 'be all things to all people.' (google that phrase for a giggle.)
1 Corinthians 9:19 For since I am free from all I can make myself a slave to all, in order to gain even more people. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew to gain the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) to gain those under the law. 21 To those free from the law I became like one free from the law (though I am not free from God’s law but under the law of Christ) to gain those free from the law. 22 To the weak I became weak in order to gain the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some.
This is hooey, or hypocricy, or both. It provides no meaningful direction for UUs. Putting aside the reality that most UUs aren't Christians, even if we were, there is no one church that can be all things to all people. To create an institution of the lowest common denominator, or to bond by pretense with the miserable, the rich, and the powerful in order to show them some kind of "way," some kind of our religion is better than theirs and if we're nice enough, vanilla enough, we will grow. Pure hooey. Paul was wrong.

This would be the Unitarian Universalism that never pissed anyone off. This then would lead us to be a religous tradition that refused to afflict the comfortable, one where a few of us gathered to only talk to those of ourselves we already agreed with. This would be the religious tradition where we'd skip a Sunday if we knew we didn't like the guest speaker, or would never bring a social justice statement to the floor of GA for fear of not being able to be all things to all people in the room.

I'm a religious educator in a Unitarian Universalist congregation. The very definition of my job is that I work to negotiate the complexities of administering an educational program that promotes a living tradition that listens to wisdom from a multiplicity of sources. My job is to help parents who don't find comfort and meaning in a particular religious tradition nonetheless teach it accurately and fairly to our children. My job is to help kids in understanding the complexity of our religious and spiritual world. To support them as they gain a foothold in our own community with eyes that cast outward toward the delicious diversity of the beautiful human and natural world around them, and with hands that pick up the hard work of protecting and even increasing that beauty. I am proud of the work we do - my congregation and I - in raising up young men and women who believe in the power of their own labor, their own ability to change the world.

My job, were we to be vanilla UU-lite, would be, yawn, to set up a series of Christianity classes for the Christians, humanist lectures for the humanists, a Habitat for Humanity Tree House that the social justice-y people could work on, and a couple of world religions classes for those who wanted to embrace some digestible western form of Buddhism. It'd be easy. We could still even have 7 of something.
7 classes, 7 rooms, 7 teachers who already knew what they thought and who were comfortable teaching it. And I'd get paid 7 times what my labor would be worth because it'd be such a cake job.

Seriously, if we aren't about social justice -- about systemic, transformative social justice -- then what is our religious purpose?

If I were turning to some of that wisdom from world religions, I'd be likely to turn to the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. They were all about justice in the face of opposition and/or oppression. Granted, theirs was generally a theocratic government that the prophets were booming on about. Yet and still, I find the simplicity of the approach comforting.

Micah, in Chap. 6 gives us some clear direction in this statement that follows a deliciously sarcastic opening.
"What does the Lord require of you, Israel? What are you supposed to do to live faithfully with your God? Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God."
There's my message from G-d. Simple. To the point. Based in reality, in the present, and in this world.

We Unitarian Universalists are a democratic denomination. We vote on things. We encourage one another and our leadership to take action based on our democratic decisions.

President Sinkford, and the incredibly hard working people in our Boston and DC offices are doing our work. They are doing the work of justice, and they are doing it with the kind of humility that doesn't lead them to pick a social action project according to if we can point to a House floor vote that was changed because of it, but because this action is the right thing to do.
How lousy would those jobs be, if, as has been argued recently, they can't point to clear successes.

They do what they do because statements of conscience are passed, programs supported by our membership. These are the issues we brought to GA, the issues we passed. They do our work.

And finally, the man's name is President Sinkford. Like him or not, it's disrespectful to toss his last name around the blogosphere like it's a rolled up sock in a group introductory name game.

I guess we all have some traditionalist in us.


1 comment:

Michelle said...

Cindy,

Wise words, which, of course, I agree with. It's important to be clear about what a religious community is, and stands for, which I think is pretty important for UU communities. But I have a question. What if we interpret Paul's words a little differently? Certainly, you're right - being all things to all people is both hypoocrisy and hooey. But what if the interpretation is more like "walk a mile in my shoes" sort of thing. Deeply understanding the perspectives of people in order to understand their lives, embrace their human-ness and their divinity.(I wish Dylan had blogged on it, but it appears that passage isn't in the Sunday lectionary readings.)

Yeah, maybe it's too generous a reading of Paul. But perhaps it's worth a thought.