Thursday, June 19, 2014
Forgiveness the breath of life and the path of transcendence
Rev. Guengerich stresses our utter dependence on one another and the world and he writes, "The religious experience of utter dependence is twofold: a feeling of awe and a feeling of obligation." p.141
Religion in our secular society has become a commodity in the marketplace of ideas and entertainment. Should I go to church on Sunday or to the ballgame? The sense of awe and obligation are gone. Religion from the Latin word "religare" means to bind, to restrain, to hold back, and in this day and age not many people want to be bound to something, let alone held back or restrained.
Religion is also a culture made up of values, beliefs, practices, and a history of traditions which define, inform, educate, and inculcate ways of thought, feelings, and behavior. In the old days, religion defined who you are, a Catholic, a Jew, a Protestant, a Buddhist, and now days it is joining a club like being a member of a bowling league or a Rotarian or a Scout. People change their allegiance to a religious denomination like they switch brands of the products they purchase. Gone are the days of awe and obligation. People are much more shallow and less willing to put down roots in the sense of making meaningful and long term commitments. The data proves this when studying church membership and attendance and Unitarian Universalism is no different from other mainline Protestant churches in losing membership.
Rev. Guengerich writes "The elements of an effective worship service need to address four key aspects of human experience: what's true, what's broken, what's right, and what's transcendent." p.145 I was struck by the simplicity of Guengerich's analysis and I reflected on how many of the worship services I have attended where these elements were not effectively addressed, especially "what's true" and I felt very demoralized and alienated and lost interest in further attendance. As I think about this, I am struck by the fact that many preachers are afraid. Pastors are afraid of telling the truth because it will offend certain members of the congregation or the community, and so things get watered down, or "overlooked", and what is very significant in many churches is what's not said, the elephant in the living room. I am reminded of Edwin Friedman's great book, "A Failure Of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix"
It is hard to feel awe and obligation to what's not true or to an organization with hidden agendas. The core of a well functioning church is "right mindedness" and without it one cannot move on to the One mindedness of the Holy Spirit. It is written in A Course In Miracles, "Salvation is nothing more than 'right-mindedness,' which is not the One-mindedness of the Holy Spirit, but which must be achieved before One-mindedness is restored." T-4.II.10:1
Not only are Pastors afraid to speak the truth, they may not know the truth. How can you conduct a worship service where an important element, if Rev. Guengerich is right, is dealing with the question, "What's true?" if you don't know the answer to this question yourself? Can you teach what you don't know? Can you lead when you don't know the way yourself? Can you share what you don't have?
And where is this knowledge to be found? It is not "out there". It is not to be found in the external world. The truth which religion deals with is inside a person; it is internal. The truth of religion is to be found on an inward journey not on an outward journey, and this may be where Unitarian Universalism has missed the boat, is barking up the wrong tree, is going in a mistaken direction. Jesus says in Mark 8:36, "What good is it if a person gains the whole world, but loses his or her soul?"
What is the soul of Unitarian Universalism? Rev. Guengerich says for Christianity it is love, for Jews it is obedience, for Muslims it is submission and for UUs it could be gratitude. Will gratitude save us? I think not. Gratitude is nice, helpful, important, but before you get to gratitude you must first deal with forgiveness and it is with forgiveness that I recognize my utter dependence, re-establish my right mindedness, find peace, and go home to God. How can practicing the Unitarian Universalist religion help us forgive ourselves, each other, and the world? The world is heavy with grief, disappointments, abuse and injustice, and the alchemy of religion is to turn suffering into joy, fear into peace, hatred into love. If Unitarian Univeralism could help us learn how to forgive ourselves and each other it would be a powerful and facilitating force for saving the world.