Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Source of suffering is lack of awareness

John: So Dave, have you come up with any further ideas about a UU theology?

Me: Yes, John, I've given it a lot of thought. It seems to me that the first step in a UU theology is to explain suffering and I think I've got it.

John: What?

Me: Well, the Christians say it is sin, and the Buddhists say it is attachment, and I think it is lack of awareness, ignorance. People are stupid, idiots.

John: That's a tough sell. People don't like to be told they are stupid.

Me: I know, but they are. They lack self awareness; they don't understand what makes them tick; they don't understand their own emotional functioning, let alone the emotional functioning of others or the systemic dynamics of interpersonal functioning. Until they understand themselves, and others, and the systems in which they participate they are doomed to not being able to manage them effectively. The seventh principle of Unitarian Universalism is the respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

John: Right. I see what you're saying. What do you do about that?

Me: We need to develop practices and teach people how to be reflective - how to reflect on their own experience and learn from it. In the secular world we call this psychotherapy. In the religious world we call this pastoral counseling or spiritual direction. Every person is his/her own theologian but he/she needs help. You can't just develop your own theology on your own, you need a sounding board, feedback, and coaching.

John: Is there such a thing in Unitarian Universalism?

Me: We have small group ministry and there are other attempts to provide this kind of assistance but it is not institutionalized. It is not sacramentalized. It's need to be. It's kind of like AA where everyone who wants to work the program needs to find a sponsor. The more advanced members of AA who have achieved some years of sobriety act as mentors to the newcomers or people who have been in the program a while and need someone to talk to. What if we had sponsors in Unitarian Universalism and this became a common practice? A sponsor is a person who is willing to help a seeker in  his/her spiritual formation, his/her faith journey. I know a couple of people I would like to be my sponsor, but I don't know how to ask because they are not familiar with the idea as I have outlined it.

John: So what you are saying is that a UU sponsor is a person who would help a person become more aware? The sponsor would help the sponsee grow in spiritual  depth and become more aware of the interdependent existence which we all share with one another?

Me: Yes. and as the person grows spiritually, he/she  would find themselves becoming more loving and compassionate and would want to be of service to the community and the world.

John: So the key is growth in awareness?

Me: Exactly.

John: Can you measure how aware someone is?

Me: Descriptively yes. Quantitively, I don't think so.

John: What do you mean?

Me: In the 60s we had an expression. We would say, "that person has their shit together." or "I'm getting bad vibes or good vibes from that person." People who are aware are at peace, self sufficient, know themselves and can take a clear position and stand on things, are a non-anxious presence in their relationships. They are perceptive, can read other people and the signs of the times. They are very honest and have impeccable judgement. I could say more but I'll come back to this later.

John: Okay. Thanks. Can we talk again in a few days?

Me: Absolutely. This conversation is very interesting.

This is article #2 in a series in UU theology.

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