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?