Monday, August 13, 2007

Tradition & Symbols

This past week our congregation had its annual summer camp. This year we delved into old testament stories and Jewish culture. (We rotate yearly between bible stories, Buddhism, and Native American stories.) I helped in the Discovery section. Our goal was to look deeper into the Jewish faith/culture - beyond the bible story of the day. This necessitated a trip to the local Jewish store for materials. While there, I was once again struck by how greatly our faith is lacking in strong traditions, but beyond that, how we are lacking in cultural symbols. Walking through the store I was surrounded by symbols of Judaism and the rich history it possess. I think the Jewish faith exemplifies the interconnectedness of tradition and symbolism. Of course, I was instantly envious.

From my seven years as a UU (admittedly not very long) I have noticed a divide within the faith (a word I use hesitantly). If there are any other UUs reading this, please feel free to disagree, this is just my own limited observations. There is the older generation that is strongly humanist. They pretty much don't want anything that resembles religion/church/synagogue. Some folks I have met bristle at the use of the word God and anything that resembles the UU history of Christianity. They tend to embrace a strong congregational way of coming together and do not feel the need to be part of the UUA. The newer group of people coming to UU, tend to be younger (there is obviously overlap between the groups) and while are turning away from the rigidity and strict beliefs of their previous religion or are seeking a community to belong to, want something that makes them feel part of something larger. I have seen my peers, myself included, wanting more then just a meeting on Sundays. I miss the sense of history of my Catholic upbringing and the traditional and symbolic events throughout the year. While I could never consider myself Catholic again, I do miss the incense ;-)

UUs do have some symbols, most notably the Chalice. I have great respect for it, but how many people do you know, if asked, know what it means? It does not have the stature of the Cross, Star of David, or even the ying/yang sign. We don't have a book like the Koran, Bible or Torah. Instead, we state that we draw from all these sources. This makes it very difficult for a UU household to have one easy source of their beliefs. Instead, I have collected quite a few books on "explaining our faith". Our traditions are largely congregational and based on personal choices. Some celebrate Christmas, others don't. We often acknowledge other religious holy days - blowing the shofar, celebrating the solstices, etc.

This isn't necessarily bad. I think we try to respect all religions and draw upon their positives. I have learned a great deal about other faiths which has helped me to better understand my own beliefs. I like that my children are growing up aware of the larger world and how there are so many more similarities then differences. But.... I miss having something uniquely our own faith. Unitarian Universalism comes out of the Christian faith, but most UUs would not claim to be Christian - my family included. If looked on that way, we come from lots of traditions and symbols, unfortunately they just aren't applicable anymore to most UUs.

Therein is the problem. We are such a diverse group. Could we ever standardize our traditions and symbols? Would the larger membership even want that? Could we ever agree? At its heart, UU is still congregational not hierarchical. I don't envision this happening. While I long for more, I think I will have to settle for what we have and focus on all the other things UU has to offer.