Response to "From iChurch to Beloved Community: Ecclesiology and Justice" by Fredric J. Muir
Peter Morales: "A Unitarian Universalism Beyond Unitarian Universalism”
June 20, 2012 - Phoenix, AZ
Let me begin by thanking Fred for his essay and for inviting me to respond. This essay is an important analysis and a challenge to us all. Fred, you have given us a gift and issued a challenge. I hope our colleagues and all Unitarian Universalists will use it as the basis for discussions in the coming months.
As I reviewed my highlights and marginal comments after reading the essay, I realized that I agree with so much of what you say that my response was in danger of being litany of: "yep, that’s right, preach it, well said,” and the like. I agree with at least 99 percent of what you say. The other one percent is not important.
What is important—what is critically important to every one of us in here today and to the future of our faith—is what we do with these insights.
I really have two things to say in response. First, we have to change. Second, we ministers have to lead this change.
First, we have to change. Make no mistake. Nothing short of culture change will suffice. The issues before us are not technical. The challenge before us is not to make incremental improvements in worship, religious education, pastoral care, and social justice programs. No. We must do what our ancestors did: We must create a religion that leaves behind what has become stale, rigid, empty and dated. And, as Fred has explained, we are going to have to give up the idolatries of individualism, exceptionalism, and adolescent anti-authoritarianism. [I have an idea for a new UU t-shirt: "Unitarian Universalism: It’s not about you.”]
We must take the core values, the fundamental religious center, of our tradition—a religious vision of reverence, humility, compassion, community and commitment—and create something new.
In short, we need a new Unitarian Universalism. We need to change, and we need our ministers to lead that change. And, dear colleagues, if we are going to lead this change to a new Unitarian Universalism, we ministers are going to have to change, too. This won’t be easy. We ministers like to think of ourselves as courageous leaders of change. Sometimes that is true. It is also true that we ministers are trained to be a conservative force. We come from and through traditional institutional forms—congregations, seminary, the profession of ministry. We love these institutions and we are taught to maintain and preserve them.
We have been trained to maintain the status quo and we have been rewarded for doing just that. This is especially true of our parish ministers and particularly true of the ministers of our larger churches. I know. That is my background. I am a parish minister. I loved my large congregation. I still do.
Now we are called to move beyond the religion we have known and loved. I am not talking about rejecting any of what is good, but I am talking about real cultural change. We have been called to ministry. Today being a minister means we are called to move beyond our comfort zones.
What must we do? And what does the UU ism beyond UU ism look like?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I think the rough outlines are pretty clear. The UU ism beyond UU ism must be a religion that:
Yes, we have to make profound changes.
Second,we ministers must lead this change. A few years ago I was at a consultation with a handful of ministers from some of our fastest growing congregations. One of the major take aways I had was the realization that these ministers were very different. Their leadership styles varied from what I called "Joan of Arc” to "sheep dog.” Their ages were all over the place. What they shared was a passion for our faith, an understanding of their context, andthe willingness to lead.
Leadership is not tyranny. Leadership is a relationship of trust that has been earned. Leadership is about passion, vision, honesty and competence. We Unitarian Universalists have got to learn to trust one another. We process things to death. We have to nurture leaders, grow leaders, authorize leaders, and let leaders lead.
We ministers must lead the cultural change, the religious re formation, of moving beyond individualism, beyond exceptionalism, beyond our demographic enclave, beyond petty anti-authoritarianism.
We face a staggering challenge and a breathtaking opportunity. Our world is changing with dizzying speed. This faith we love is in real danger of rapid decline. It also has fabulous potential. The hunger for a progressive faith like ours is palpable.
I believe we can move from ichurch to the beloved community. I believe it because I have experienced it, because I see hundreds of examples of it.
We can do this. We really can. But we can do it only if our ministers lead.
Fred, you have given us gift with this lecture. Thank you.
Response to "From iChurch to Beloved Community: Ecclesiology and Justice" by Fredric J. Muir
June 20, 2012 - Phoenix, AZ
It is an honor to be with each of you
this afternoon, and it is my greatest privilege to be sharing the stage with my
mentor, Fred, and President Peter Morales. Following these two, I also
risk agreeing and amen-ing both Fred’s and Peter’s offerings. I do, have
a few things to add, though…
Among the many exclamation marks and underlining that I did when first reading Fred's lecture, there seemed to me, to be an unspoken assumption in Fred's offering that I continued to get hung up on. And that assumption is, as Unitarian Universalist ministers, what drives our ministry, at least in part, is Unitarian Universalism.
I was raised in this tradition and the oddity of that meant that I have had to defend the long name of our faith and its meaning from an early age. Unitarian Universalism is so much a part of my identity that the idea of it being coined a Chosen Faith is, to be frank, tiresome, to me. As I moved through the process of becoming a minister, I expected that I would be held accountable to this tradition, its legacy and future.
Fred, you have often teased me after preaching, that you would have been harder on the people, and so today I say the same to you.
It was only after entering the ministry that I was, for the first time, met with the trinity of errors you named. Colleagues who wondered how I didn’t know the names of ministers serving our largest congregations; who said I couldn’t be a Unitarian Universalist with my love of the Christian texts and rituals; who shared their call to ministry as a want to be a part of "the club”; ministers who defined their faith, like so many of our people, by the rejections of other religions, rather than the affirmations of belief or call.
I expected that I would be held accountable to this tradition, its legacy and future, to the thing that drove and shaped my ministry, but instead I was challenged to keep up with the trinity of errors. This is the muck and mud I carry with me.
Reading and hearing Fred's essay, I continue to ask myself, is one of our goals to do Unitarian Universalism well? -- Or is it creating an empire around a minister or a building or an institution? Is it simply being a liberal community for the Spiritual But Not Religious and the Nones? I guess my question really is, and the question I believe I heard Fred asking: Do we want more links, or a greater density to our faith? And if it is the latter, this is the inreach before outreach. This is the justice interdependent with growth. This is doing Unitarian Universalist ministry.
You see, I don’t think individualism is rampant in our people by accident but rather because we, our leaders, are not articulate in what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist; what it means to be Religious. Not simply that a lack of creed does not mean a lack of belief or a belief in anything. There is, of course that issue that still needs attention.
But that as Unitarian Universalists, and therefore, as a religious community, by joining this tradition, as Fred named, we enter into covenant with one another. By signing our membership books, we do in fact consider it a conversion into a larger community and a longer legacy. That there are expectations of how we will be with one another, with ourselves, and in our search for whatever we call the sacred. There is individuality upheld within this covenant, but there is also vulnerable and divine connection that we are called, by this specific faith, to seek. Individualism alone does not foster this.
I do not think exceptionalism is a narrative our people have created because they have finally found their home and wish to mock others for differing choices. We write our own narratives. This is, as Fred said, spoken in the pulpit, in our New Member classes, in the banners we hang and bumper stickers we stick. We do things differently here. The Uncommon Denomination. Once again, never claiming what we are, what our starting point is, Unitarian Universalism for its own sake, but rather a response to everything else. As if we only exist if others do as well. And therefore can exist better than.
And lastly, I do not think our allergy to authority has grown from the grassroots. I am not so green as to not know the effects of disgruntled congregants. And yet we have given away – and I do mean given – the authority we have been called to live into … to members who are the loudest, the most in need of pastoral care, those who have the largest pledges. Authority on our faith given away to the Nones; the Spiritual But Not Religious. We have heard this question asked numerous times already this week, Who or What are we accountable to?
I asked Fred why he wanted me to speak today. He reminded me that, having been born the same year he began his ministry at UUCA, I represent some piece of our future. This is strange to me because, we all know that saying, children, who were raised in our faith, either leave or become ministers. And I often wonder if I have done both.
Yes, I am a Unitarian Universalist minister. And yet, for a smoother beginning into ministry with the Nones and the Spiritual But Not Religious in our pews, I silence my faith, this tradition, and the legacy I was blessed to be given.
In what other tradition might we hear that the words "As Unitarian Universalists” from the pulpit of a Unitarian Universalist congregation, from the mouth of a Unitarian Universalist minister, could offend so many? I will be the first to admit, liberal religion to the Nones and the Spiritual But Not Religious, preaching only to our specific communities or working without the partnerships of neighboring colleagues, is at times, much easier than a Calling to a tradition, a legacy, and a faith. But as long as our ministries are driven by this trinity, and not the greater tradition, individualism, exceptionalism, and authority issues will persist - and the justice dreams that had been historically UU, will be only that.
For the sake of filling the pews, to show that we are a minister to take note of, or for the stature of joining a club, I worry that we have fallen silent to our roots and thus clipped our wings. We have become individualized when we need each other most, at times boastful without action, and allergic even to our own authority when we are the ones who have chosen and been chosen to lead this faith.
We can be the best community, or many individualized unique communities, sects even, but that will not be the depth and richness that is Unitarian Universalism. That will not see us into the hard work of beloved community.
We have to begin at home, in our congregations, and with our people. Including our people in this room. We can’t expect to be saved by those outside our walls when the people within are still waiting for each of us to fulfill what the tradition they have been told about promises.
I pray that for the sake and drive of Unitarian Universalism, we return to our people, and colleagues, ready to recognize and challenge this trinity of errors of which we are a part.
Fred, thank you for your work, your guidance, and your ever-persistent love of this faith and its traditions.