Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

October 16, 2011: “Reflections on the Religious Relationship, New Member Recognition”

Yes, we are the church you might have seen described in the Doonesbury comic strip and yes, the minister Scott Sloan was a Unitarian Universalist! Indeed he in typical fashion had both a law degree as well as Master of Divinity degree and was the chaplain when Garry Trudeau went to Yale. The minister’s name was Scotty McLennan and he wrote a great book, titled, Finding Your Religion: When the Faith You Grew Up With Has Lost Its Meaning. It’s a kind of ‘church-shopping manual and relevant today as we welcome new members even as this minister gets ready to depart and you will get ready for another minister. The beloved community will continue, though somewhat changed, and you will begin a new religious relationship with another minister.

Having long been a Doonsebury fan, it seems fitting that Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau would write the forward for this book. “I grew up in the Episcopalian faith-the ‘best religion money can buy,’ it was joked- and my family worshipped at the small, wooden, rural church my great grandfather helped to build. My faith home was St. Luke’s – home in the same way that the Yankees, not the Dodgers, and Ike, not Adlai, were home. In a small town, no one takes you by the hand and says, ‘you may not not be from our tribe, but here you are welcome. Here you are free to seek grace – or not.’

When the faith of one’s youth loses its meaning, there is no ingrained cultural habit of looking elsewhere. Indeed, in much of the world, where religious freedom is still unknown the structure against

straying make it unthinkable. But in millennial America, there are, to paraphrase Paul Tillich, many windows through which to see God at work. This book (this church) frees you to gaze through all of them, to drink in the light until you find the clarity that gives life meaning.”

Next week I will be preaching at BuxMont UU Fellowship in Warrington, PA NE of Philadelphia, in Bucks County, where Cathie and I were invited to attend our first UU service in 1980; in fact it was October, 1980! Within 2 years I was taking my first seminary course! They are celebrating their 50th anniversary and I was their 2nd minister, they had had one for a few years in the 70’s and it hadn’t worked out well; his wife ran off with the choir director or something like that! But after seminary, I went back and was their 1/2 time minister for 2 years until I found a full time settlement in San Antonio. They have continued to grow and expand their old stone creamery barn, from about 120 to 223 currently. Their mission statement-“We are… a free, creedless religious congregation… joined together in a cooperative quest for religious and ethical values, seeking to apply these values to the development of character, enrichment of the spirit, and service to all.”

I was there a few years ago and knew very few people which was not unusual; most people had joined since I had left in 1991. How many people here have joined since 1991? When I left it was a strongly humanistic congregation; we even had to change the words to the xmas carols! Someone complained when we used a Xmas Cr’che as a decoration! I remember when one of our older feminists started talking about the Goddess and I argued that it seemed illogical that as humanists we would be discussing a goddess since we all agreed we didn’t believe in a male God! Why was a female one suddenly OK?

Today our theological explorations are wider I think and perhaps even more open! In fact, many of our churches actually have a link on our websites-now the most valuable tool for church shopping- to the place to go for truly exploring your theology- it reads: “What’s Your faith? Find out with Belief-o-matic Even if YOU don’t know what faith you are, Belief-O-MaticTM knows. Answer 20 questions about your concept of God, the afterlife, human nature, and more, and Belief-O-Matic will tell you what religion (if any) you practice…or ought to consider practicing. Warning: Belief-O-Matic assumes no legal liability for the ultimate fate of your soul.”

I will have to admit to three recent reservations when I went there to retake the test for this sermon; I hadn’t taken it fro some years. The first was that I found a number of questions that didn’t have any answers that I agreed with, the second was that before I could finish, there was an error on the site, and the last was the accompanying advertisement right beside the quiz about “questions about your concept of God, the afterlife, human nature, and more” was this-“Still Skeptical about the cause of your bladder problems? Go to!”

So often religion becomes commercialized, and I don’t mean to imply that we need to cater to people’s consumer tastes, but, remember the SHAKERS! One of the reasons many people have been turned off to traditional church is the language, liturgy concepts, and the church music they use seem antiquated and irrelevant to some of us. There is a wide divide between conservative and liberal Christianity, and even those who insist on calling themselves Christians. I believe that one can be a sincere devout follower of Jesus and have different belief about the teachings about him as well as his teachings! Indeed, it is the universal that we emphasis as well as the Unity, meaning that we DON’T have to choose just one way or one voice or one understanding. The idea that religion is a relationship means not only choice but intentionality and willingness to change and mature, or in other words, grow!

Starr King Seminary president, Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker says something crucial to not just church membership but member ship in the human race: “The purpose of life is not our own well-being in isolation from all others… Our well-being enters into the being of other beings, adding a measure of health or joy. We do nothing in isolation. Everything in communion. Our actions matter to us, and also to all the world. We live both for ourselves and for one another, in a balance that is given in the nature of things…Thus the purpose of life is to find and realize that joy or well-being that simultaneously pleases us and blesses our neighbor, that enters into the flow of life as a blessing, not a curse. Every act we do is a contribution to the world, the question is only what will we contribute–Thus the basic question of life is not what do I want? but what do I want to give?”

As we reflect on what religious relationship might mean as regards to church membership both new and old, we invite the old to truly welcome the new into the fold and make them not just welcome but one of them! Why aren’t there more social activities to get to know each other? Is there an elephant in the room that no one dares talk about? How can we transcend the liberal-conservative divide?

What is it about this church that draws us out on Sunday morning as well as for committee meetings and fund raising? What makes us Unitarian Universalists? Is it important to be that brand? I believe we come to find and to make meaning through relationships, which make relationship creating all the more important, all the more religious, if you will, all the more worth worshipping! For me, it is the worship service that is the most spiritual aspect of ministry and of church, but that includes the wedding as well as the memorial services!

Victor Frankl: was a German Jewish Psychiatrist who survived the concentration camps and wrote best-selling book about it, still being printed by UUA’s Beacon Press, titled (before inclusive language) Man’s Search for Meaning; I’ll translate the quote into inclusive language: “What humanity actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of our humaneness. What we need is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by us.”

I want to suggest that our church membership, our religion, is a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by us- as individuals and as a beloved community. You will now need to find the meaning, the mission, the raison’ d’etre, the reason you are here! I now need to find mine.

Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda’s – Two donkeys, heavily burdened with packs, ascend a narrow path that winds up the side of a mountain, a sheer wall of rock on one side and a precipitous drop into the canyon on the other. Yet they do not follow one another in single file, but walk side by side in pairs, despite the narrowness and the cliff. They ascend side-by-side, leaning inward against one another, sharing the weight they bear, balanced across the geometry of their triangularity, stronger together and more secure than either could be alone. Do likewise, friends, in your ascent: Lean on one another.

Closing Words

May we go from here recharged, inspired with love
..of ourselves, of each other, and the world continue the journey of the every day life,
..but also to find a way to help make the world a better,
..more loving and just place for our having lived here.
May we laugh often, and cry as we need to.
May we pray, not to avoid problems,
..but for the strength, inner wisdom and friends to solve them.
May we live our lives the best that we can.
May we love the best we can
May we gather strength from holding hands.
May we be generous givers as well as receivers.
May we meet one new person every Sunday.
May we go now in the peace which passes all understanding,
..and in the love that makes it all worthwhile.

Amen, Peace, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum (may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. “Vaya con Dios” is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is “Go with God,” SO I adapted it to say “Vaya Con Su Dios,” “Go with your idea or interpretation of God.”

Peace, Love, Shalom, Salaam, Blessed Be, Namaste, Abrazo a Todos,Vaya con su Dios