Saturday, January 31, 2009

Prayer for Inspiration

Tomorrow, I will be leading a worship service at the First Congregational Parish of Kingston, MA. The title of my sermon reads: "Wandering Beyond a Pathetic Provincialism." As I head off to bed this evening, I pause and pray for inspiration:

I need you to stand with me tomorrow.
I seek your presence
amidst my fear and uncertainty.
I ask for your steadfast strength
in the form of passion and confidence.
Let the words from my mouth
flow with humble honesty,
gathering in
I need you to stand with me tomorrow.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Admitting to our own Metaphysics

In his cultural anthropological account of religion entitled The Interpretation of Cultures, Clifford Geertz posits:

Religious belief involves...a prior acceptance of authority which transforms [the] experience [of Evil].

Bearing witness to injustice, pain and suffering in the world is not the foundation upon which we form our religious convictions. Rather, such encounters – the darkest nights of the soul – serve as the field in which we apply our religious commitments. In a very real sense, then, the Unitarian Universalist promise of justice, equity and compassion operates as a metaphysical heuristic that gives meaning to our universe by denying “that there are inexplicable events, that life is unendurable, and that justice is a mirage.” Though at times we may question the seeming invisibility of equity, for example, we are infrequently prone – if at all – to actually doubt the possibility of its existence somewhere or sometimes.

In effect, we do not worship the authority of said values, but instead accept the authority of such principles in our worship. Our ‘religious perspective’ – as one of many that inform our being and help us discern, apprehend and grasp our environment – works to move beyond “the realities of everyday life to wider ones which correct and complete them.” Through commitment to and encounter with reality’s often brute and harsh ‘reality,’ our religious perspective imbues a certain specific “complex of symbols” with a persuasive and undeniable authority. Here, we are left no other option than to admit to our own metaphysics.

In his provocative response to Geertz’s post-Enlightenment context of secularization, Talal Asad focuses on the genealogy of religious discipline and power. He strikingly takes Geertz to task, insisting that “changes in the objects of belief change the belief.” In this way, then, adjustments to the discursive webs that produce suffering also open up a space for the recasting of religious interpretations thereof. Again, this nuanced addendum to Geertz’s notion of (external) authority-sanctioned-belief raises questions and concerns for Unitarian Universalist theology: will we be willing to change our principles on account of new socio-historical realities? We have in the past - how about in the future? To what extent do we take our metaphysical ordering system for granted, such that realignment with a newfound status-quo will either go unnoticed or cause cataclysmic dissonance? What values have we safeguarded in the realm of the eternal?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More Than Merely Liberal?

What unites our faith? While it may be tempting to point to the seven principles as a base-line foundation upon which our congregations sprout and grow, we must not forget that self-defined Unitarians and Universalists around the world infrequently turn to this religious patchwork for identity or inspiration. In his brief narrative history of Unitarian Universalism, David E. Bumbaugh suggests that a common historical thread – though often selectively constructed and imagined – binds our tradition to its early Christian and European heritage. With new manifestations of our faith cropping up in Burundi, Uganda and Kenya – to name but a few – the argument of continuity grows tenuous and fragmentary, however. Is it our position on the fringes of mainstream religion – that prophetic call to a progressive faith – that ultimately defines our denominational being? Are we merely religious liberals, whatever that term may connote or suggest?

These questions, I believe, deserve serious attention, especially as the cultural, ideological and demographic sea changes of our day reconfigure preconceived notions of majority/minority positions. With (political) liberalism no longer marginalized or cast in defensive shadows, how does our self-identity shift? Today in lecture, Prof. Ronald F. Thieman provocatively called for the development of a critical stance to authorizing discourses, practices and expectations in our own religious communities. Where should we look for an outside perspective: evangelical Christianity? What are the consequences of (post)Protestantism’s emerging minority status (both numerically and intellectually) vis-à-vis Islam and Catholicism?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Responsive Reading: Tolerance

When we tolerate one another, we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
Moving beyond prejudice, we learn to accept and cherish all.
When we tolerate one another, we recognize the finite limitations of our own being.
Moving beyond vanity, we acknowledge with humble gratitude the gifts that we may share with others.
When we tolerate one another, we celebrate compassionate communion in difference.
Moving beyond exclusion, we open ourselves up to others with a trusting faith.
When we tolerate one another, we actively embrace life’s proliferating variation.
Moving beyond indifference, we care and love for one another.