Taking issue with those who speak for us all

When someone tells me that Unitarian Universalism is this - "XYZ" - and only this (XYZ), I get rankled.

This morning I read on a "I am UU" Facebook post: "It always upsets someone when we point out that Unitarian Universalism is a religion. It always upsets someone when we point out that Unitarian Universalism is a Humanist Religion. It always upsets someone when we point out that Unitarian Universalism is a religion of Agnostic Humanism."

They're right, I'm upset, even though I personally identify as a Unitarian Universalist Humanist and Atheist, I could never define UUism so narrowly, causing exclusion to so many other faith beliefs under our UU umbrella.

I recognize the plurality of theologies within our many congregations as a strong point, and one to be celebrated. I NEED the Christian perspective, the earth-centered framework, the theistic point of view, the Transcendentalist thought, the Buddhist's and Taoist's approach to life (and death). I NEED this grab bag of ideas and philosophies in order to be well rounded. They don't change my view of God (or no-God) but they definitely influence my view of how to live life and to "be" in this world.

Yes, Unitarian Universalism is a religion, but it is not only a religion of Agnostic Humanism, and if it were, I'd leave. I need something bigger, not something smaller. I need a universe of possibilities, not the constrictions of a narrow lens.

Now you may say I'm sounding like the author of that Facebook post, stating that Unitarian Universalism is my definition of "XYZ." Not so. I will not define UUism for the masses (and maybe that's a problem for a minister?) because each of us who claim to be UUs must develop our own definition. But I will say that a definition which is exclusionary is not in the loving spirit of true Unitarian Universalism.


Generous hospitality by the carafe (and a secret)

I've had occasion to stay in a few hotels, and B&Bs over the past couple years. It seems that most nowadays provide some sort of coffee setup in the room for those of us (like myself) who wake too early for the breakfast to be available. Invariably there is a mini-coffee maker, capable of dribbling out one or two weakly brewed cups - usually small paper or styrofoam cups at that. There is often a powdered creamer envelope, a sugar packet (and maybe an artificial sweetener), and a stir stick. Just the basics.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I stayed at the Belhurst Castle recently. Of course they had a coffee setup in the room, but this was a full-size, 12 cup carafe coffee maker, with a choice of packets of coffee (regular and decaf) large enough to create a decently strong brew, and two filters so we could make both kinds if we wanted. The cups were big ceramic mugs. There were plenty of creamers - the little plastic cups of liquid Coffee-rich - and sugar and artificial sweetener packets.

Such an abundance of coffee felt incredibly generous. This small gesture felt more hospitable than having a stack of soft towels in the bathroom, or multiple pillows on the bed. It made me stop and think about the impression visitors to our church might have. Do we come off as being generous and hospitable and welcoming or miserly and inwardly focused?

It's a small gesture, really, but having a never ending flow of coffee available and some fresh bagels and cream cheese on the table free for the taking shows we want our visitors (and members) to feel welcomed. The actual out-of-pocket cost is minimal - just like providing a 12-cup coffee setup doesn't cost much more than a two-cup one - but the effect is, as they say, priceless.

I'm very proud of my congregation for being hospitable. How is yours doing?

P.S. My blog title promised a secret so here it is: if you are planning to stay at the Belhurst Castle try to get a room in the castle proper, not the new addition, because there is a tap on the second floor where one can get all the red wine you want up until 11 pm. In fact, they even provide wine glasses in the room for your wine-imbibing pleasure. Now THAT is hospitality!


UU Liturgical Colors

I entered the chaplain' office at the hospital on Good Friday and was confronted with a sea of purple chaplains. Shirts, blouses, dresses, scarves, even sox were some shade of purple. I didn't get the memo; I was dressed in blue.

OK, I understand how Catholic and Christian churches have adopted various colors to be displayed and/or worn throughout the year. Violet, white, green, red, gold, black, rose and other colors are employed and ascribed significance. White could mean light, innocence, purity, joy, triumph, or glory. Red represents the Passion, blood, fire, God's Love, or martyrdom.

So I'm standing there in the office and one of the chaplains asks me, "Do Unitarian Universalists have liturgical colors?" The answer came to my lips quickly - "Rainbow. We have the rainbow."

A full spectrum of color is a good way to portray our full spectrum of belief, reason, and tradition. And a rainbow may be worn or displayed any day; no special occasion required.

I may have to get a rainbow shirt to wear to the hospital.


Open because we want to be

Snow. Cold. Ice. Winds. Whiteouts. Winter weather forecast that caused the churches in our town to close preemptively on Sunday. All of them except two - the Catholic church, and my Universalist church.

Our local news reporter stumbled into the building about 9:30 am, surprised to find us "open for business." His inquiring mind wanted to know why we chose to have service when (almost) everyone else was shuttered for the day.

Immediate response: UUs are not wimps. Second, slightly more thoughtful response: the Catholics are open because they need to be lest their parishioners suffer guilt from missing mass whereas we're open because we want to be, we want to gather for community.

Granted, the weather kept the number of our attendees down but it still was a decent turnout and those who came were glad they did.

52 weeks a year - 52 Sundays a year - and we're open for every one of them. Neither rain nor sleet nor threat of snow... I guess you could think of us Unitarian Universalists as the postal carriers of the spirit.


Because. That's why.

I've heard it said that "Not all questions have answers." And yet, it seems to me there are some universal answers.

"Why?" (Parents know this one!) Because I said so.

"When?" When I say so.

"Who?" Whomever.

"What?" Whatever.

"How?" However.

"Where?" Wherever.

Now, granted, these may not be the most satisfying answers. Inquiring minds want to know, after all, and such inquisitiveness should be encouraged rather than stifled. Great philosophical discussions can be launched from such simple questions, and the opportunity for a teaching moment should not be passed over. But, isn't nice to have a stock answer at the ready just in case?

Of course, most Unitarian Universalists tend to avoid the stock answers and relish the questions. Indeed, we seem to especially like it when there appears to be more than one correct answer. We often reject the yes/no, black/white, either/or solutions and encourage the both/and. Doing so makes it difficult to answer a true/false exam but creates lots of fun (and chaos) with multiple choice. Why? Because I say so.


Words matter. Silence matters more?

My service on Sunday was devoted to the idea that words matter, yet my closing benediction was this...

"Sometimes it is the absence of words that matters. Hear these words by Jacob Trapp... 'If it is language that makes us human, one half of language is to listen. Silence can exist without speech, but speech cannot live without silence. Listen to the speech of others. Listen even more to their silence.' Amen to that."

I often think there is not enough silence in the world, and therefore, not enough quiet in the heart or mind. Finding a stillness when we are continually bombarded by both our own inner thoughts and messages from others can seem near impossible.

Some have been able to meditate and "om" themselves into a higher state of consciousness, sidelining intrusive thoughts for at least a little while. But is that really an experience of silence, or a replacement of other stimuli with a focus on just one sound?

I've read a science research article that found true and total silence can make one go mad. Subjects were placed in a specially soundproofed room such that the only thing they could hear would be their own blood coursing through their ears. No one could stand it for as much as an hour.

So a lament for silence must find the answer in some middle ground - not so severe that we can't stand it but enough that the effect is calming and refreshing. I don't think we need to run off and cloister ourselves like monks with a vow of silence, but deliberately creating some time in the day for some "no talk zone" may have a cumulative beneficial effect.

We make time for exercising our bodies, why not make time for some silence, too?


Asking the hard questions

"What one thing will you do differently this year to improve your life?" Tonight our Wednesday discussion group will meet to consider this question.

The easy attempt at an answer is to approach it as a sort of a New Year's resolution kind of thing. You know the typical ones - lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking or drinking, eat more healthy foods. But those are not the answers we seek tonight.

Tonight we go deeper. What might one do to alter his or her life that goes beyond the ordinary self-improvement tropes? Maybe spend more time outside in nature (walking in the woods, gardening, beach strolling, star gazing, etc.). Perhaps commit to helping others in need (volunteer at a pet shelter, work at a food pantry, drive a van for meals-on-wheels, build a house with Habitat for Humanity, etc.).

Other life-changing possibilities: Learn a musical instrument, or Tai Chi, start keeping a daily diary, read a book on a subject that you've always had curiosity about, carve out time each week to be with children or grandchildren - and have memorable fun with them, attend church regularly.

I'm sure there are hundreds of possible answers, hundreds of ways of changing to improve one's life. In letting my mind "brainstorm" for this short blog post I noticed that everything I came up with requires action, movement, participating and engaging with life rather than sitting around and letting life just happen. That is the secret to transformation - doing something - and I invite you to ponder deeply on what one thing you will do differently this year to improve your life.