Thursday, August 7, 2014

If you don't know where you're going any road will take you there.

The second part of the third principle of Unitarian Universalism is "....encouragement to spiritual growth..." How do Unitarian Universalist congregations help its members in spiritual growth and how do members of the congregation help one another? In an of it itself, without being deconstructed, unpacked, the phrase "spiritual growth" is little more that psychobabble. Does Unitarian Universalism provide any model to measure spiritual growth let alone define what the phrase means?

Unitarian Universalism professes to draw what it calls its "living tradition" from six sources all of which might define spiritual growth in a different way, and if a Unitarian Universalist congregation member prefers to consider his or her spiritual growth from the lens of one of the sources which other UUs aren't familiar with, how could UU congregational members help each other in their spiritual growth along a path unfamiliar to another UU member?

The answer might be found in an integrated model of spiritual growth which encompasses all of the sources like James Fowler's stages of faith development and/or Lawrence Kohlberg's model of moral development. There also many models of  "spiritual type" based on personality traits such as the Enneagram and other models. Having taken the spiritual identity test published by Skylight Paths I have learned that I am an SC- Skeptical Contemplative. Here's the description of the Skeptical-Contemplative type:

"The fastest growing of the Spiritual Types, the Skeptical-Contemplative person may not be completely sure of what (s)he believes about spiritual things but is interested in discovering what there might be to discover. SCs often do not adhere to any one spiritual tradition exclusively, and they rarely join spiritual groups. They find a variety of spiritual practices and religious traditions stimulating. If they worship, they often do so on their own terms - sometimes participating in religious services but holding on to their own personal convictions in matters of faith. There is an underlying mystical strain in a percentage of SCs as they are intellectually skeptical of all spiritual teaching, but at the same time hold great faith in the guidance of the spirit within them to find the truth." Who Is My God? ed by Skylight Paths, p. 33

Unless you know your own and others spiritual type, and what stage you and they are in faith development, it seems that it would be difficult to know how to best encourage your own and other's spiritual development.

Fowler's model has six stages. Here is how stage 3 is described: "

Stage 3  "Synthetic-Conventional" faith (arising in adolescence; aged 12 to adulthood) characterized by conformity to religious authority and the development of a personal identity. Any conflicts with one's beliefs are ignored at this stage due to the fear of threat from inconsistencies.

In my experience this is where most "born again" Christians and fundamentalists seem to be. I would hypothesize that most Unitarian Universalists have moved past this stage especially if they are not cradle UUs but have come to Unitarian Universalism after having been raised in some other faith.

 Here is stage 4: 

Stage 4  "Individuative-Reflective" faith (usually mid-twenties to late thirties) a stage of angst and struggle. The individual takes personal responsibility for his or her beliefs and feelings. As one is able to reflect on one's own beliefs, there is an openness to a new complexity of faith, but this also increases the awareness of conflicts in one's belief.

This may be the stage when a seeker is drawn to Unitarian Universalism as they are attracted by the fourth principle, a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. A seeker may be attracted and investigate but will the seeker engage and stay? The encouragement of spiritual growth at this stage involves the reassurance that questioning and doubting is not only okay, but the first step in finding one's own path. Rev. Galen Guengerich tells the story in his book, God Revised, how, having been raised as a Mennonite, there was fear in his family and friends when he went off to Princeton Theological Seminary that he would lose his faith. As Rev. Guengerich puts it, he didn't lose his faith, he lost somebody else's. His challenge was to find his faith, a faith of his own not a hand-me down.

As you might think most people attracted to, and engaged in Unitarian Universalism, are further along in their faith development than the average adult. This requires a maturity to manage and accept ambiguity and paradox, and tolerate the consequent anxiety generated by the recognition of uncertainty when reflecting on things religious. People at this stage take comfort from the companionship of other open minded, open hearted, free thinkers. People at this stage start to realize that what matters in life is what they value, and how they behave, more that what they profess to believe to be in compliance with some externally drafted and imposed code. People at this stage are not necessarily looking for the right answers, but the right questions. Without the right questions people are lost, confused, wandering in a frustrating way, but great assistance is provided when seekers are helped with the provision of a map, a frame of reference so they can determine where they are and where they want to go. Whether they take the journey or not is another question but they can't make an informed decision unless they are helped to describe and understand the options. As W. Edwards Deming, the Total Quality Management guru supposedly said, and I expect he stole the saying from somebody else, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there."

The problem with Unitarian Universalism today is that it doesn't know where it's going, and not knowing that, hasn't a clue about how to get there. If Unitarian Universalism is to help people in their spiritual growth, it needs to know the path and communicate it in helpful ways to the seekers who turn to her.

1 comment:

  1. Very good article. I think Unitarian Universalism and most religions are adrift because they have no good sense how to help people grow in their spiritual life. Prayer can help but people need guidance. Of course, very few people are serious seekers. Most people think it is secular, material things that will make them happy until they finally realize that money can't buy you love.