Congregational life is central to Unitarian Universalism, but ministry often calls one to be a “border crosser,” one who moves beyond the center of the congregation in order to reshape the world with our common values (ix).
The idea of being a border crosser appeals to me–and not just from an altruistic desire to change the world for the better. Sometimes being a parish minister is claustrophobic–or worse, the walls of the church become a too-comfortable haven. Pushing out and being part of a ministry outside the congregation–and perhaps even completely separate from the congregation–is a good thing.
The human need that inspires ministerial insight and care is relative to time and circumstance, a premise that is fundamental to the range and shape of all ministerial work …. Inspired by deep religious imperatives, [community ministers] reckoned with brokenness as they found it and brought into being creative visions of healing and change (3).
The brokenness that I see in our time and place is a broken habitat. Without the healing of the earth, what do other human needs matter? The healing vocation I feel called to is a ministry of healing our connection to the earth, to our food, to community connections. I don’t particularly feel called to more traditional places of community ministry–hospitals, prisons, etc.–or to work on more traditional issues of injustice. But maybe this will change.
Liberal religion may free us from the constraints of doctrine and creed, but it does not free us from an imperative to live for the deepest, most worthwhile achievement of being human (5-6).
In some of us who have escaped dogmatic religious experiences, there is a sense of relief, like a kid on the first day of summer vacation. No more rulers, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks. But it’s important for us to remember that this “chosen faith” of ours also asks something from us. It is not the freedom to sit on the couch all summer reading novels and eating bon-bons. It’s the freedom to make something wonderful of the time we’re given. And that’s hard work!
James Luther Adams proposes a theology…delineating five major principles as the “Five Smooth Stones of Liberalism.” The First Stone lays out the premise that revelation is continuous, dependent always on creativity and processes not ultimately of our own making….The Second Stone maintains that relations between persons ought ideally to rest on “mutual, free consent and not coercion.” …The Third Stone affirms the moral obligation to direct one’s efforts toward “the establishment of a just and loving community.”…With the Fourth Stone, Adams argues that the faith of the liberal must express itself in societal forms: in education, in economic and social organizations, and in political organization….With the Fifth Stone, Adams offers the hope-filled view that the resources available to us to create meaningful change should encourage our attitude of ultimate optimism (6-7).
The principle of continuous revelation is the main reason for my reluctance to label myself as an atheist. Agnostic feels more comfortable, not as a wishy-washy stance, but as a principled openness to the new ideas that tomorrow may bring. Today, my experience does not lead me to believe in the existence of a deity (or deities!), but you never know. When your journey has been as far-reaching as mine, experience teaches you that anything can happen. I also like this sense of moral obligation here, and again, note that it is a chosen obligation, and that, for me, makes all the difference.
Whether one serves as priest, or prophet, or teacher, or healer, the call to community ministry is centered in this belief: that the Beloved Community of justice and love must be made real….Community ministers bring sacred service to civic space, in the great and profound hope that from our ministry in the common places of life will arise the gift of grace, for ourselves and for others; a dynamic of restoration that does not “fix things,” but “opens us up, giving us ears to hear and eyes to see; not by saving us out of this world, but by showing us this real world in which our salvation lies and must be worked out” (11).
One of the profoundly jarring experiences that propelled me away from fundamentalism (and eventually to being UU) was the discovery that my Plymouth Brethren family did not believe in making this world a better place. They called it “painting the deck chairs on the Titanic.” Now that I have come to believe that this world is all we have (or at least all that we know we have), I am slightly phobic about returning to such an otherworldly, dissociative state of mind. In fact, some of what I wrote above about my attraction to being a “border crosser” (rather than being completely submerged in the parish), is most likely related to growing up among people whose insular world was focused almost entirely on the invisible.