What Would Your Thesis Be For Unitarian Universalism?

As you may recall from my October 22nd sermon on a (UU) Reformation, this October was the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The story goes, Martin Luther, a Catholic Priest, is offended by the Catholic Church’s insistence that members pay for their absolution; their forgiveness. The overt corruption has him wringing his hands and unable to serve his people.

But he’s also unable to navigate his evolving beliefs with his Catholic theology; a theology that is bound in living life (or “doing works”) that is reflective of one’s beliefs. “Faith without Works is dead,” says the book of James (the UU book many call it today – and the one that Catholic Church also turns to).

But Luther insisted that it was faith alone, belief alone, that made a person enough. We don’t have to prove ourselves or buy our forgiveness; the church had strayed! Fed up with trying to make his heart speak that which he did not believe, Martin Luther penned 95 statements of correction for all to see.

95 Theses. The story goes that he showed up at the Wittenburg Cathedral and for theatrical effect, to make sure his statements were made public, he nailed his critiques to the door. In reality he mailed them in and then, as was custom of the time, he also hung them on the nail of the door that collected the mail.

During that October 22nd sermon, I laid out a number of theses of my own; formed in conversation with other UU ministers and for our Unitarian Universalist tradition. I’ve listed them below. In the weeks since, I’ve heard from many of you how rich (and dense) hearing those theses was. Many have asked for me to take the time to reflect on each on more fully.

As I proposed in that sermon, I’d actually like to hear from you! What would your thesis be for Unitarian Universalism? And if you don’t have one to add, I’d love to hear your reflections on any of the ones I’ve offered below – not necessarily an argument for or against, but giving any one of these texture, personal story, a legitimization through your own experience.

So here they are again, not nailed, but emailed! Oh how the world changes…

We will stop defining ourselves by negation: We do not believe in hell; we do not have a creed; we do not believe in a savior. Rather, Unitarian Universalism is a religion of recognition and affirmation. Even as we take seriously the problem of evil, both in the world and in ourselves, we believe in the worth of all that is, has been, and will be alive. We seek to nurture life and acknowledge with awe the interdependence of all things, and of which we are but a part.

We will stop using our faith as a Modifier. We will stop relying on hyphens to legitimize our practices and beliefs. Unitarian Universalism is a religion in and of itself. Hyphenating (Christian-UU, Buddhist-UU, Humanist-UU) makes the faith a modifier. We can be Unitarian Universalists who find inspiration from the Bible or meditation, from Human reason or Jewish tradition. That doesn’t change the religion of Unitarian Universalism.

We will take seriously the public implications when we keep our faith private. The unique role of religion is the practice of public worship. That is: the ritual to facilitate personal self-reflection on what is most important. Worship is cultural, community, and personal self-care, a re-grounding in the present moment and its dangers and possibilities.

We will give up old fights where there are no longer sides. We will take seriously the work before us, rather than halting our potential because it is easier to debate than deepen. When the preacher references, “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God,” humility, not God, must be the concept which gives us pause.

That we as a denomination may have a future, and with Universalism at heart, we will act knowing that All of us need all of us to survive. The purpose of our faith is not to perpetuate itself but to urge us to grow beyond the small self into authentic relationship with other human beings – especially those we view as “other.” Our faith’s purpose is to support us as we de-center ourselves and join with others to build a different way of living.

As such, we will release our captivity of upper class culture that prevents Unitarian Universalism from a prophetic engagement with systemic injustice; economic, racial, and ecological. We will gladly take up the support and nurture of families with young children, and the support and nurture of our youth, as a high-priority mission. We will take responsibility for the hard, painful, and even shameful portions of our history. We will make new mistakes.

Continued, less formalized theses, from the October 22nd sermon:

“I want to say so much more here. I want to also tell us, in less formalized language, that one day soon I hope we will learn to move. To find our way to our bodies and grow a community that feels wanting to shout or weep or clap outside of when the music ends; outside of the control of all other moments of our days.

I believe we can faithfully teach our children and learn for the first time the honest freedom that comes with the response I don’t know, and how everything is possible in those three words: wisdom, story, humility, learning and pause.

We can be less auditory and more visual. We can be attached to our people and less attached to our things. Everything we have isn’t entirely our own. This place included, of course. We can slow down. We can speed up. We can love the hell out of the world – of which we are a part.

We can apologize. We can be forgiven. We can offer forgiveness without payment; absolution without shame; relationship without conditions; we can, I believe, speak the truths of marginalization and oppression — #me too, white supremacy, coming outs, and outs and outs – with a reaction never seen by the world to date, by a community, by a faith, by people who are choicefully bound in this life by promise and salvation: we can react with acknowledgment, and affirmation. We can react with worship that regrounds us in what really matters. We can respond rather than reacting.