Closing Twenty Years

Earlier this week I resigned from the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association. At the same time, I recommitted to the Unitarian Universalist Society for Community MInistries. But I’m not sure that will last, either.

My UU identity and work are stronger than ever, but they’ve become completely private endeavors. My daily reading is a wonderful resource from Beacon Press, Rabbi Chaim Stern’s Day by Day, an interfaith gathering of wisdom through the Jewish Lectionary Year. My history interest is still UU polity, in which I’m examining the immediate post-Roman Empire Western World for deep roots of elected governance combined with pagan ritual. Surprisingly, once you drop the Rome-centered view of the same regions, a coherent and unbroken story emerges. How much we could learn from the Jews about having a canon which tells that story, with all its contradictions and imperfect characters, week by week, every year, with no goal other than lifting our sense of self out of any particular time and place, into union with The Eternal from which our faith was given.

When I visit the local UU society on Sunday, I get none of this. The overwhelming sensation is that last residual of a dead faith, one from which God has moved on, leaving behind obligations that never end. The worship experience is delivered with excellence and commitment, and we had a huge turnout last weekend for our Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop — which means the ethical and spiritual core of our leadership stands ready to grow and serve — but I just miss a central presence of that God Who Unifies History.

As a caregiver, I need an unsullied message about larger concerns. Where does suffering come from? What will give me strength for one more day? As an aging person, I want to know who will mourn for me as me when I’m gone. Who will even know me well enough to say who I have been? A society that avoids discussing the God Who Unifies History — not just European history, not just national history, not just human history — cannot know my soul, any more than can a society that limits God and History to any one faith, place or species.

From the return of Jupiter and Venus this week through the quadrennial ritual of watching a Presidential debate, I believe in a God who speaks through knowable systematic theology. It is not chaos, it is not abstract or mystical. That doesn’t mean there are not mystical moments or chaotic disruptions to the sequence, it just means things return to that place of relationship, where Abraham and Sarah received the promise of descendents as numerous as sand in the desert or stars in the sky. Where Noah received the rainbow and the dove, and Jesus went apart to regather his strength through prayer. The place where Lao Tzu watched the butcher and cherry blossoms represent the fleetingness of beauty.

This place is not in the Middle East; it isn’t in the Far East. It isn’t on a timeline that historians can lay out and ask for on tests. This place is a one to one connection between Eternal and Mortal realms, in which each knows itself to yearn for and trust in the other.

I know there are many others who feel the same longing, which is why I bother to share. But as my partner sleeps longer and longer hours and my care-giving obligations grow, I need a religion that wants to take care of me, to reinforce its sense of my place in this larger realm.

Well, that’s it for today’s whining. The good news is, we had a weigh-in yesterday,and Lynne is back up to 140 pounds. The bad news is, her chorea is starting to fight back against the miracle drug we depend on to keep her going. We’re going to look into physical therapy, but we can’t deny that Huntington’s Disease remains fatal. Is it time to be grateful that we had this last good year? That we refuse to concede.

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7 thoughts on “Closing Twenty Years

  1. Just the other day I was telling myself that I needed to read Tillich’s “Systematic Theology”. But I might start with re-reading Howard Thurman and throwing in some Benjamin Mayes. (I’m with you on the G-d in history gospel)

    And you are not whining. This post is as far from whining as a person can get.

    • Thanks, Kim, for affirming what felt like a risk.

      When I speak of systematic theology, I mean OUR systematic theology. UUs have trouble with the concept of systematic theology because we do not read UU Systematic Theology. That is my main gripe against interfaith seminaries — they do not teach us how to teach and use OUR religious heritage. We do not archive our best work, we do not cross-index the archives we do have, and then we complain that our people don’t stick with us.

      • I see what you mean. It’s harder to get to UU systematic theology because the papers of the people who wrote it are scattered. I don’t know if there’s anyway to stop that–as UUs are a more far-flung group that many; and most have no interest in UU history and theology.

        After reading the Hungarian Unitarian Catechism years ago, I’ve come to believe that somehow those of us on this side of the pond need to develop something like that. Yet I know that the “rah-rah-sis-boom-bah UU” crowd would hate it because it doesn’t promote the principles. oh well…I guess one can dream.

      • Good thoughts, Kim. I wish that I had been younger and more energetic — and more focused — when it finally dawned on me that the key to our theological ignorance is that we don’t do library science. The good news is that only in the last decade has library science developed the computer tools to make it completely unnecessary for us to establish a single-location archive. I love Harvard’s papers, I archive there, and I’m trying to move an unusually excellent ministry collection up here to that single place — but there also needs to be a team of professionals who simply link up all the UU archives all over the place, who manage grants to put them in order and put out container lists that let anyone plan a research trip to the right location. One of our ministers, for instance, archived in New Hampshire instead of Vermont. And one of our ministers is completely unknown to anyone, even Harvard — again, except through info obtained in New Hampshire. I spent several years sitting up late with Google Books while the television played MSNBC or I would never have found the info from Maine that unlocked our most important question.

        So once we get this material in place, and the links established, the next goal would be Research Grants, to support scholars plowing through the stuff. And, of course, in return for said grants, all work, published and private (notes are often the key) would be archived properly and added to the container lists. I know it’s painful to put one’s half-finished thoughts out into the public realm, but this is a religion, not a PhD exam, so we need to just get it done.

  2. I was excited to see the UU tag/category on your blog, disappointed to hear that you feel the denomination isn’t the right place for you anymore. But I understand. It does seem the UUs try to be “everything to everyone” (at least everyone liberal…) without really succeeding at times. My church (Unity Unitarian) seems to be pretty good about finding common ground between theists and nontheists (or “less focused on God”-ists) – we do talk a lot about our historical roots in Christianity, and how they still guide us- rather than just playing shallow interfaith buffet. Our current ministerial intern is from our partner church in Transylvania, it will be interesting to learn more from him. I’ve gotten the impression many UU churches water down the “God-talk” out of fear of “offending the humanists”. Heck, I’m a polytheist, and frankly I don’t really expect the theological language in a UU church to reflect my worldview. I know what I “signed up for”. If I can deal with references to “the Spirit of Life” and “Ground of Being” so can they 😉

    • Thanks, Caelesti, but it was ministry from which I departed, not the denomination. My new life as a caregiver does not leave me space in schedule or emotions to be as fully present as people need when they call a minister. Indeed, these days I am gratefully on the other side of that process, and more in awe than ever of those who do it so well.

      • Oh, OK sorry I misunderstood- skimmed thru your blog. That’s totally understandable, and in fact I’d say it’s a different kind of ministry- just for one special person 🙂

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