The last chapter of Rev. Galen Guengerich's book, God Revised, is entitled "When We're Satisfied: Ultimate Meaning" and it seems a bit of a muddle to me. Rev. Guengerich describes a conversation he had with Natan Sharansky, a Russian human rights activist who shared the idea that human beings want two things: to be free and to belong. It seems that Sharansky's idea is that until you know where you belong and have some identity you cannot be free.
Then Guengerich uses the metaphor of being a part of a symphony orchestra and until you're part of the orchestra you are not free to play symphonies. Okay......that's true of a lot of things. If you want to be a quarterback on a football team and play football you've got to have a lot of other people willing to play their positions on the team in order for the game to get played. What's this got to do with religion and God?
The idea that the system is greater than the sum of its parts comes from the field of cybernetics and is a basic principle of systems theory. An appreciation for the systems quality of life is the path to enlightenment, but I don't think religion is necessary nor even a revision of God.
Rev. Guengerich ends his book with these sentences:
"Tens of millions of spiritual seekers - both within the religions of the book and outside the fold - long to reconcile the discoveries of science, the wisdom of religion, and the meaning of life. The adventure of faith requires the ultimate commitment, but it can lead to ultimate meaning. You can find yourself in the place where you belong and, in doing so, be set free." p.213
I felt let down. God Revised started with a promise to put it all together for us postmoderns and to end with the idea that to be free you have to belong in some community that gives you an identity seems very lame. New York Yankee fans, Buffalo Bills fans, Civil War Reenactors, the folks at the Rotary or Elks club all have a transcendent identification with something greater than themselves and they may devote inordinate amounts of time, energy, money, and other resources to perpetuate this sense of belonging and transcendence and this "joining" and "becoming" are not considered religious.
Spirituality, based on the Perennial Philosophy, has to do with giving up the ego identifications, and letting go of worldly concerns in favor of doing God's will by exercising selfless compassion. Not many churches preach this any more because it is so unpopular pastors fear losing their congregants. Jesus said that many are called, but few are chosen. The gods of the secular world are never going to fly no matter how many times they are revised, and while an ethic of gratitude is a great idea, it doesn't go far enough, and doesn't get to our basic human problem of our brokenness and suffering. A helpful religion needs to address the brokenness of humanity and help us find a way out of our suffering to joy and peace. Forgiveness is the path, and miracles, a new way of seeing, is the means.
Preachers have turned to pop psychology with basic opposing tactics to attract adherents: injecting fear, and promising riches. The old carrot and the stick both of which are insane because God doesn't care about either.
We are due in this postmodern age for another enlightened teacher like Jesus, and Buddha. I have found Osho and A Course In Miracles and recently have returned to the philosophers especially the Stoics. It is written in the introduction to A Course In Miracles:
"This is a course in miracles. It is a required course. Only the time you take it is voluntary. Free will does not mean that you can establish the curriculum. It means only that you can elect what you want to take at a given time. The course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of love's presence, which is your natural inheritance. The opposite of love is fear, but what is all encompassing can have no opposite.
This course can therefore be summed up very simply in this way: Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God."
Does your religion, your spiritual practice, help to remove the barriers and blocks to your awareness of Love's presence? If so, you are blessed. If not, keep on looking.
My experience with Unitarian Universalism has been mixed. Sometimes, I feel uplifted, informed, inspired, loved by my attendance at the service, but often times I am left either bored or turned off. I think the key to good worship is the worship leader who inspires the other members of the team to provide an inspiring and transcendent experience. We need religious leaders who are holy people, who are conduits of God's grace and blessings to their congregation. A religious leader cannot share what he or she does not have. A religious leader cannot give what he or she does not know and possess him or herself.
A life of religious leadership is a vocation, is a sacred mission, and too often in the UU denomination as well as others it has become secularized with academic pedagogy and pastoral training in counseling skills leading to the professional credentialing of professional status but not requiring necessarily any spiritual depth manifested in the practice of a spiritual life.
If God is going to be revised it will take a cadre of spiritual men and women who walk the talk, and know that of which they are trying to speak because they have tasted it, they have lived it, it is part of their experience, in their bones. It's not something that can be faked or donned along with a stole or other vestment. I would be grateful for such leadership, but it is very rare and the UU tradition doesn't seem to do much to instill or promote it.
Where are the wells we can draw from? Who in our postmodern world can give us a taste of the sublime? Who in our modern world is truly a person of God who can show us the way? Rev. Guengerich takes a stab at it for which I am very grateful, and the conversation needs to continue so the story can become richer and be more widely spread. Do you know a person of God whom you've learned from? What's his/her name? What did you learn? Where is this person? Can I visit him or her too?
My Kind Of Church Music - All That You Have Is Your Soul, Tracy Chapman