Thursday, February 5, 2009

On Revelation

I must confess a certain obsession with the writings of Ricoeur on religion, narrative and imagination. At one point in The Bible and the Imagination, the author opines: "revelation is the transfer from this history to our history." The imaginative or creative moment is birthed with the recontextualization of narrative - who am I in this vignette? In this way, the myth of revelation-as-sealed becomes revelation-as-creative-engagement. Yet, I am forced to ask: what is the significance of Unitarian Universalism's textual allergy to narrative? In his essay Philosophy and Religious Language, Ricoeur suggests that the form (and genre) of our religious articulation in turn reflects on its message. As the only authoritative text in our tradition, Singing the Living Tradition contains not a single excerpt of narrative verse. Whose stories, I wonder, can we enter into? Is revelation, ironically, thus rigid and fixed?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Suspending the Queston

In his article entitled Rumination and Proclamation, Paul Ricoeur tangentially comments on the nature of our epoch: "Modernity is neither a fact nor our destiny. It is henceforth," Ricoeur proleptically suggests, "an open question." While post-modernists insist on naming the current supercessionist period in which we 'have our beings', Ricoeur's 1978 desire to view time not as an oppressive force operating on human fate, but as a creative symphony in which we participate, resonates with James Luther Adam's intention of "making history in place of merely being pushed around by it." This view of historical era as an unanswered question calls us into action and into the process of formulation.

Wearing Multiple Hats

From my experiences watching, working with and learning from ordained religious authorities, I have come to conclude that the vocation of parish ministry depends on a balancing act of sorts. The minister, it seems, must always wear different hats. In the Unitarian Universalist tradition, these include (but are not limited to): worship, pastoral care, public (social justice) and institutional (church management).

Positing or Necessitating Our Opposite?

In their discussions of ‘religious’ authorizing discourses (orthodoxy), authoritative texts (scripture) and required rituals (orthopraxy), Asad and Foucault opine that normative power posits its opposite. In other words, the institutionalization of a distinct set of values and proclivities – by necessity – opens up the space for the dialectical development of opposing scripts and positions. Such resistance, in the history of Christianities, often took the shape of heresies, condemned by the central church and erased from the dominant Christian consciousness.

I think it is worthwhile to extend this discussion even further, as Prof. Monius suggests, to consider the inquiry: do the authorizing discourses in liberal American (post)Protestantism both posit and require their opposites? To what extent do we, as Unitarian Universalists, necessitate the Other (read: doctrine-forming, creed-holding traditions) for self-understanding. How wrapped up is our self-identity in the process of exclusion?

Unitarian Universalism often distinguishes itself from absolutizing and universalizing tendencies: our fourth principle encourages a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, regardless of the propositional outcome, so long as it promotes (as opposed to degrades) life. Yet, this tenuous balance between the rejection of the eternal, translocal absolute and the affirmation of the particular, rests on shaky ground. Dare we move from a position of opposition (self-definition through negation) to a position of positive declaration (self-definition through affirmation)? Our principles, some would suggest, serve such a (meta-physical or meta-ontological) function, describing the nature of (‘is’) and ideal for (‘ought’) the physical and human world with broad brushstrokes. And yet, others reject this supposedly imperial approach, re-casting the principles as mere suggestions.

To be something, it seems, is to exclude something. How can we escape our tendency to slip into the dangerous realm of dependence on the rejected Other for self-definition? What will we sacrifice if we take seriously the call to stake ground? How can we posit, without necessitating, our opposite?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Dynamics of Black Preaching

Preaching intends to grasp people - to reach out to, disturb, uplift and inspire people, so that they will respond in praise and in resistance, bringing about a personal transformation.

I look forward to investigating the dynamics of great preaching in the "black traditions," whatever that term means, this semester. My intent is not to disingenuously capitulate to or blindly adopt the methodology examined, but rather to find possible resonances within the context of Unitarian Universalist worship. It will be an honor and a pleasure to study with Rev. Dr. Charles Adams.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Story for All Ages

Topic: The variations in faith, culture and practices of Unitarians and Universalists around the world.
Location: Kingston, MA.
Photo credit: Rev. Eric Cherry