Monday, July 20, 2009

Needing More

Yesterday I had a wonderful lunch with a small group of UU friends. We had a really interesting discussion about spiritual depth within Unitarian Universalism and, specifically, our experiences at our local UU congregation. I first want to note that I feel there needs to be a church like Unitarian Universalism. Acting as the Membership Coordinator last year, it became very clear to me how important this denomination is to so many people. It is really one of the few truly open religions. As we so like to declare - we welcome all spiritual seekers. We are needed in the larger religious landscape.

As we started discussing our experiences, though, it quickly became evident that we all were looking for something more. Something is missing. My children attend an ELCA Lutheran school (this is a long topic for another day) and, like most Abrahamic religions, the church year is pretty well defined. The service has a set format. Similar prayers are said. This is standard in most denominations. The year and and the day have a certain rhythm. Behind that rhythm, whether you realize it or not, is spiritual meaning. People all over the world are performing the same ritual you are. I find that to be pretty awe inspiring and something that is really lacking in our denomination.

Our roots are in Christianity, yet so many of us try to disavow any sort of connection to that source. We also draw from Judaism and earth-centered traditions. But, for some reason, we have not really taken to their cyclical traditions. Sure, we may have a Christmas pageant, a Seder dinner or a Solstice celebration, but after awhile, they feel empty. It feels like we are just cherry picking certain ideas, but not really giving ourselves over to their meaning. When a Jew celebrates Seder - they are doing it along with Jews all over the world and it something very powerful to them. Not only is it a part of their religious tradition, it is part of their cultural identity.

I miss that. I miss the spiritual depth. I know many people who come to UU are trying to free themselves from the various obligations they feel their former religion has placed on them, but there has to be some sort of happy medium. Maybe UU is all about the journey into finding the traditions that work for you. Maybe that is enough. I, though, feel like there needs to be more and I am not sure I will find that in a UU congregation. What are your thoughts?

6 comments:

Bridgett said...

What you are saying here is the reason I've stayed Catholic. There is very little else...I am regularly upset by our leadership, our decisions, our Pharisaical attention to things that I really truly believe cannot really matter to God. And so much more, locally and globally. I tried to leave several times--the quakers almost got me, about 5 years ago--but the tradition, the culture, the heritage kept calling me back.

I wish our church were more congregational in style, I wish women had a real place, I wish so many things. I've found my own places where I could, and the rest of it I just pray about and try to let go. Because I will always be Catholic. I can't not be, I've realized. And that thought troubles me sometimes, but other times, like at Easter vigil mass after a long triduum, I feel almost awash in a sea of Catholicism, old, new, here, there, and it makes me feel small. In a comfortable way.

The Eclectic Cleric said...

You can find spiritual depth in Unitarian Universalism, but it's not an easy pilgrimage and it doesn't happen overnight. "UUism" (and God how I hate that term!) is very much a self-conscious, post-conventional faith stance which works best for "come-outers" and others who have lost trust in the traditions in which they were reared, and who need to question, challenge, demythologize every tenet of that prior heritage until it all makes "rational" and consistent sense to them. The problem is that too often we are most comfortable simply leaving folks there, or inviting them to "graduate" out of the pews and migrate back to secular society (or perhaps into the ministry if their hunger is still strong enough!) And I'm not going to go on at too much more length about this here, since I have plenty of others things I need to do with my time right now. But I do think there's another important insight lurking here -- not only is it difficult to go deeper in the Unitarian Universalist tradition once you have "liberated" yourself from the "superstitions" of your past, there is also a great deal of institutional pressure to keep the focus on the needs of the come-outers, rather than systematically developing a path toward a more profound spiritual depth among the laity.

Saille said...

If you come from a Christian background, reading about Unitarian and Universalist thought throughout human history may help a lot. I don't just mean back to the 1700s and identifiable churches labeled "Unitarian" and "Universalist", but back to people like Origen, or the Arianists at the Council of Nicaea.

I do think that, as a religious movement, we lose sight of that need to be connected to something old and deep, and forget that the tradition of religious questioning and church accountability provides us with a rich genealogy of dissidents in the service of humanity.

The truth is, we've arrived at an attitude of openness and acceptance for a reason. Transcending dogma is what UU is all about, but that's not the same as having to leave religion behind: quite the opposite. If you're feeling like the services don't reflect your needs as a congregant, maybe you could talk to the Worship Committee?

You're a UU homeschooler, right? Have you looked at the Timeless Themes curriculum?

plaidshoes said...

Thanks for all your comments. I know that UUism can have spiritual depth, but I just feel like it is so individualized, that I miss being part of a greater cohesive whole. Personally, I just don't know how to bring it about. I have read a lot about UU history and feel that there is quite a bit of depth, but our congregations just don't seem to want to reflect it. EC - you are right that the emphasis seems to be on the "come-outers".

Bridgett - You have very well articulated why I left the Catholic church (I was even married in the Catholic Church). I could probably get around those issues, like you have, but I have a husband who is unwilling to do that. He is very set against dogmatic religions, which makes this whole process much more difficult.

Saille - I actually don't homeschool - although I would love to. My husband was also not for that. I have a lot of friends who do, and I will mention that curiculum. I have never heard of it before. If we continue to live in our school district, there is a pretty good chance I will start homeschooling the kids as they reach middle school.

Bridgett said...

Mike's insistence on catholicism has done the same thing for me (in the opposite direction, obviously). I could leave...but he was going to stay. Eventually I made peace with it, but I don't stay quiet....

I wasn't aware of UU's roots pre-1700s. Now I want to learn more.

plaidshoes said...

Bridgett - I am glad you don't stay quiet! There are a lot of cool things fringe Catholics do that the whole denomination could benefit from. I have always been impressed with the Catholic Worker and their dedication to helping those in need. I have also met quite a few rockin' nuns!

UUs really do have a long history that many people don't realize. They tend to think of us as those "hippies". What is complicated is that the Universalists and Unitarians didn't come together until the early 60s, so many people focus on that day. In reality, Unitarians go way back and were constantly challenging trinitarian doctrine. Universalists had that crazy notion that we all were going to be saved and really upset the class system. If you are really interested in learning more - I will email you some good books to read. You can always start at the UUA site - www.uua.org. Although, their history section is pretty weak. (Really no surprise when you realize that very little emphasis is given our extensive history). Unitarian Universalism - a narrative history by David Bumbaugh is a also good place to start (although a little dry ;-)