This world. This place. This life.


Monsters in our closet

I have a working theory that many UUs are more afraid of the imagined beliefs of other UUs, than they would be if they knew what those other UUs actually believe.

Here’s what I mean. When I hear people insisting that we need to define our UU identity, that we need to name the core of what UUs believe, I get nervous. I’m afraid that the circle they might draw would shut me out.

But something changes for me when I hear what people really believe, rather than what I imagine. The bedroom light switches on, and the monsters in the closet are just shirts and shoes.

I first realized this when Patrick McLaughlin shared with me David Bumbaugh’s suggestions about UU core beliefs. Bumbaugh’s poetic language allows enough space for a range of interpretations, for a broad spectrum of UUs to say, “Yes, this is what I believe.”

Christine Robinson has also risked articulating our common beliefs. Here’s what she says:

Life is good, and so are you.

Reason and Intellectual Faculties are good.

You can trust them to understand life.

However it’s a Very Big Universe out there,

and many important things can’t be known

through reason and intellect.

For this we have intuition, heart, spirituality,

and other faculties which are useful

but don’t lead everyone to the same conclusions.

Truth on these Very Big matters

is best found in conversations,

actual, virtual, literary, and internal.

It is to be expected that there will be differences.

They enrich us.

That’s what we do as Unitarian Universalists…

grow in spirit, together.

It takes a certain amount of bravery to propose a list of “things commonly believed among us.” We’re a tough crowd. We attack imagined monsters before anyone has time to turn on the lights. We shred a lot of shirts and shoes.

I think it’s time for us to find our courage. Courage to speak our beliefs––and courage to listen to others without reflexive critique.

We are not children. We can expect more from ourselves. We can replace fearfulness with a deep and abiding trust that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”


Essential Tenets

Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God? –Book of Order, G-14.0405b(3)

When I was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, this was one of the ordination questions to which I responded, “I do.”

Even then, I was enough of a heretic to be relieved that the Presbyterian Church (USA) had never been able to successfully articulate just exactly what those “essential tenets” were.

That’s not to say they didn’t try. Protracted battles were fought–and still rage on. A conservative group called The Fellowship of Presbyterians plans to make a definitive list of the essential tenets.

In my new Unitarian Universalist home, there are similar arguments about defining who we are and what we believe. Sometimes I suspect that, if we held a gathering of everyone who wants to figure out the “essential tenets” of Unitarian Universalism, we’d be surprised by the diversity of what attendees felt was essential.

The Rev. Dr. Jack Rogers, a former moderator of the PC(USA), writes

An essential, or confessional standard, is a core belief that already has the assent of the overwhelming majority of the community.  Essentials are not things that we are fighting over, but things over which we no longer fight.

In other words, essential tenets are those beliefs that are so obvious, that even the most hardened opponents would agree to them.

No matter what religious community we call home, most of us have laundry lists of “essential” beliefs and practices, rituals and traditions. The more anxious we are, the more tightly we cling to our lists of must-haves. Fearful that we might lose what has been of such comfort, we wrap ourselves in mantles of self-righteousness, insisting that ours is the one true way.

What we need is the courage to compare notes. To put our lists on the table, and begin searching for what we share. The core of our identity may be very small. Our central beliefs–the ones over which we no longer fight–may be few.

But that’s not a bad thing. A short list of beliefs is much easier to remember. A lightweight core identity travels well, and stands the test of time.

When we think of centers, and cores, the image we’re describing is a circle. A center, a core––and the circumference of a closed curve.

For Unitarian Universalists, and maybe for other communities, here’s a different image: the daisy. Yes, there are limits to the yellow center. But the daisy’s petals extend from that center in all directions.

So may we be.

(Photo by kkimpel.  Used under Creative Commons license.)