Why don’t we share more?

Today we had a guest in our pulpit from the Unitarian Universalist Association. Our guest spoke about the fact that so many people have a hard time finding Unitarian Universalism. Often this is because so few of us share out faith, our beliefs, our existence, with others. This fits with the stories that I have heard others tell about the many people that have said “if only I had known UU was here years ago!”

As I was doing the dishes this evening, I began to ponder why it is that more UUs don’t spread the word. I think some of it is about having a hard time finding the right words. I read a good article in UU World magazine a couple months ago about the language of explaining UU. (Even in writing this blog, I’m wondering if I can say “beliefs” and “faith” in discussing it.)

Another reason some folks don’t share is because they feel like they don’t know their own beliefs or don’t hold strong enough personal beliefs in order to explain them to someone. Which may be true but I would say that this problem also comes from assuming we will have to defend our beliefs which we don’t feel ready to do. We won’t share unless we feel we have a “safe” environment. I understand where this fear comes from but it is one that with practice we can overcome.

I think the above two reasons probably represent a significant majority of why most folks don’t share about UU with more people. There is a third reason that comes to mind though. And I’ve known enough of these folks that I feel confident in putting this down here. These are the folks that have come to UU because they had a bad experience somewhere else. And now UU has become a place of refuge for them. A shelter if you will. These folks never seem to embrace our principles fully but instead focus on something that “we are” in terms of something “we are not.” For example, a bad experience with a Christian group makes them come to UU. It may have been a theological, personal, or organizational conflict. They didn’t come here because our beliefs appealed to them but instead because we were the opposite of the previous group. The problem here is that this develops an “us vs them” mentality. Often these folks have a hard time seeing the “inherent worthy and dignity” of the people they are running from.

This last group also breeds fear in a congregation. Fear of what “they” are doing. Fear of sharing, partnering, and working together towards common goals. And any move that these folks see as mirroring that other group is met with anger, exasperation, or stubbornness to change. As example, someone coming from a very hierarchal system of faith may constantly harp on the autonomy of UU congregations and bristle at any thought of doing what the Unitarian Universalist Association recommends a congregation does (be it as simple as following some piece of advice on finances, administrative programs, or ministerial transition). I wonder if it is possible to build a transition program for this last group of folks. A spiritual development program to help them come to terms with their experience. While I appreciate their contributions and I value skepticism, the emotional and visceral reactions that seem to accompany their reactions have significant impact far beyond themselves and ripple out into a congregation.

So why don’t you talk to folks about being UU? How willing are you to share your faith in various settings? And “why” are you that way?

Instant religion vs real faith

This past Sunday, our pulpit was graced with the presence of our high school students. This is an annual event where our youth deliver their thoughts on what our church or Unitarian Universalism means to them. This one focused on the concept of “faith”.

I am also involved in our campus ministry group. While at the service, an email came to our campus ministry account from a Christian website aimed at college students. Their presentation of being non-denominational, open and accepting of GLBT persons, and other liberal Christian ideologies was very well done and the web site in general was very flashy. However, it was their claim that this website “has all the answers” (actual quote) that most intrigued me.

Our youth had done well in their service to illustrate that they were perfectly comfortable in a religion that said “no one has all the answers – if there even are any answers”. So here this stood in stark contrast. In a twist of irony, if you had a question about something, you had to email it to them (no message boards, etc.)

I was also fascinated by a video on the site about why you should choose Christianity. The video (just over two minutes in length) spent the first minute and half focusing on how “difficult” other religions such as Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism were and how they required significant lifestyle changes and life-long devotion. The guy in video promised how if I accepted Jesus as my savior right now, I would be a Christian. No more commitment. Nothing to do after that. Instant salvation. Instant blessings. (I checked the screen for fine print just to be certain.)

I think that is the appeal of “pop” Christianity and one of the things that has turned me off to it. The sales pitch is good. “Just say these words now and you are in.” But that means it is very easy to step in and out of “pop” Christianity. Growing up, that was something I saw Christians doing it all the time. And so long as they said the right words moments before they died, went to church, or saw their parents, then they would be just fine and “good” Christians. I don’t think this “faith of words” is the kind that encourages commitment, dedication, or development of moral principles.

I think this is the sort of thing that is turning off so many Americans to Christianity. It just doesn’t mean anything to say you are a Christian. It’s become watered down in meaning. (I’m always more intrigued when someone describes themselves as a Presbyterian or Methodist than as a Christian.)

This got me to thinking – what does it mean to be a Unitarian Universalist? Sure it is a “call to arms” for some folks (as in many other faiths) to take social action based on your faith. But for others, it simply means being able to put a label on yourself. I’m curious what it means to others to be UU. I wish I had time to survey my church and ask. I’d love to see some of the answers. Then I’d love to get one of my Christian friends (and friends of other faiths) to survey their groups and see what they think.

What do the labels you use to describe your faith mean to you?

The Launch

The first post. High expectations. Luckily at this point it is only myself reading it.

I intend for this blog to be a reflection on life through the lens of being a Unitarian Universalist. Our church offers two services on Sunday (known as 1st service and 2nd service). I often walk out of service pondering the message and entering a state of reflection. That reflection sometimes lasts a few minutes but can also last for weeks. I have come to think of it as 3rd service. I am also involved in church life and often find meaning (or cause for reflection) through those meetings and conversations which may be reflected here as well.

I have often turned to writing as means of expression. I have done some minor professional writing. This is my first attempt at a blog. That said, things may change as it goes, but every journey must start with a first step.

Thanks for reading!

Paul