Showing posts with label Guengerich. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Guengerich. Show all posts

Monday, June 30, 2014

Ending discussion of God Revised by Galen Guengerich

The book this month for discussion on UU A Way Of Life has been God Revised by Galen Guengerich and next month, July, 2014, which starts tomorrow, we will be discussing Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.

The reason I chose God Revised to discuss this month is that I received a copy from my daughter, Maureen, who bought it at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Ann Arbor when Rev. Galen Guengerich visited there to preach and, apparently, do a book signing. The book which my daughter gave me is inscribed, "For David, With gratitude!, Galen" and I don't even know the guy. Why he is grateful to me, I have no idea other than that my daughter bought one of his books for me and so I am the reason for another sale. Is this too cynical?

I obviously read the book since I chose it for discussion and how could I discuss it intelligently and be honest with my readers had I not? I'll tell you something important - readers bring as much meaning to the text as is in the text itself and so every reader might get something different from the reading of a text not because of what the text says, but because of what is in the reader's mind, and heart, and experience already. My mind, and heart, and experience is pretty corrupt so far be it from me to tell you what Galen (did you notice we are on a first name basis?) intended to say, said, or will say to people who read his book in the future. Without being impertinent let me say, if you want to know what Galen Guengerich thinks about a revised god, read the text yourself and let me know.

Maureen asked me once, "How did you like the book, Dad?" At the point she asked the question, I hadn't read it yet but I did appreciate the gift and her thinking of me. Now that I've read it I'd say, "Mehhhh".

Guengerich, imposing Fowler's model of faith development on the purpose of his book, is trying to get the reader to move from Fowler's stage 3 "Synthetic-conventional" faith to stage 4, "Individuative-reflective" and maybe even to stage 5, "conjunctive", and stage 6 "universalizing". Already being at stage 5 and 6 myself, I get Guengerich's points, I think, but someone at stage 3 or lower would find his book shocking and disconcerting if not blasphemous.

So the questions become "Who is Galen writing his book for? Who are his intended audience?" My guess is that Galen is singing to the choir, he is preaching to the converted, teaching the educated and with this crowd, God Revised may be a disappointment. Galen is moving into mystical territory without being a mystic. He is trying to describe things he doesn't seem to know of, or if he does know of them, he fails to appreciate. The book is a hodge podge of autobiography, cultural references, philosophy, half-baked theology, and it seems to hang on the idea of religion being based on an ethic of gratitude which misses the whole deeper observation of the perennial philosophy that human beings are broken, imperfect, sinful, and need to repent, forgive and be forgiven, and redeem themselves and each other. How can gratitude be the grounding ethic when a much more fundamental factor in human experience is suffering?

Unitarian Universalism doesn't do well explaining human suffering and sin. It is too liberal, too Pollyannish, looking, unfortunately, at the world with rose colored glasses. It's not that gratitude isn't nice and important and lovely, it is, and it is nice that Galen points that out and expresses gratitude to me for being the reason that he sold another book, but when he inscribes, "With gratitude!" he is overlooking my pain, my suffering, my fears, my griefs, for crying out loud the guy doesn't even know me. "With gratitude!" is like saying, "Have a nice day!" and I grumble to myself "Don't tell me what kind of day to have!"

I am grateful to Galen for writing this book. Will it get many 3s to 4? Maybe. If so, it will be a worthwhile service, but if you are already a 4 or 5 or 6 you will find little here worth spending your time with.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Letter to the editor - God Revised doesn't live up to promise.

Dear Mr. Markham:

I have been following your series of articles this month about Galen Guengerich's book, God Revised, and I, once again, am struck by the blasphemous arrogance of Unitarian Univeralists who think that they can "revise God". Good luck with that as they say.

Having read Guengerich's book I am left with the impression that it is a hodge podge of academic nonsense they teach in seminaries that passes as the preparation for young professionals for the ministry. The only somewhat new idea I gleaned from his reading was his idea that gratitude should be the basis of a new ethic based on an awareness of our utter dependence on the world. However, Guengerich has shared this ideas before in the Unitarian Universalist magazine UU World and certainly aren't worth the price of the book.

Overall, I am somewhat pleased to see a Unitarian Universalist minister who has the cojones to get published by a major commercial publisher but I doubt the book will do very well with the intended audience because of its mushy premise and the lack of cohesiveness of the message. Unitarian Universalists are mocked in jokes about not believing in anything and so fall for everything. I don't think Guengerich's book helps with this perception which I was hoping it might. Guengerich writes on page 16 that his book will reconcile religion with the modern world. Does he accomplish this outlandish goal? Hardly, but he does get kudos for trying.

Guengerich fails in reconciling religion with the modern world because he tries to address the challenge using the old paradigm. Albert Einstein supposedly said one time that you can't solve problems with the same thinking that created them, and that seems to be what Guergerich is trying to do, and frankly, it doesn't work, at least for me.

What is it that is unique to Unitarian Universalism that can save the world? There are so many things, and while gratitude is nice, that's not it. Guengerich seems to mean well, but meaning well is not the same as doing it. There is a brokenness and imperfection in humanity that religion has always tried to address with its cosmological stories no matter what era, culture, religion, and Guengerich's revised god seems to overlook this basic element in human nature, let alone address it.

I wish I could be more positive in my letter to you. As you are aware, UUs value the free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and so I wanted to let you know where I am in the search and meaning making. I thank Rev. Guengerich for his effort, but there is a long way to go yet and I hope others will pick up the ball and continue down the field toward the goal line. Guengerich's stated goal of reconciling religion with the modern world is full of hubris and, as might be expected by a more temperate soul, doesn't live up to its promise.


Glen Daniels

Friday, June 27, 2014

The future of Unitarian Universalism is based on the Universalist belief in God's forgiveness for our brokenness - everyone's not just some

I appreciate Galen Guengerich's effort to say something meaningful about God in his book, God Revised, but, for me at least, he misses the boat. He writes that his idea of God does not include the idea that God is some supernatural magician controlling the universe. I agree. He writes that God created the Natural Laws and the more we, humans, understand these Natural Laws scientifically, the more we understanding the workings of the universe, i.e. God. I am not sure. Science studies what is out there and religion studies what is within. Jesus said that the kingdom of God is within you, not out there among the stars and galaxies.

The Perennial Philosophy also points us within, not without, in our search for the Unitive Godhead.

Unitarian Universalism has become, unfortunately, more about social justice, and progressive causes than it has about the spiritual search for the essence of our being. In that, it has become a religion that focuses outward rather than inward, and it ceases to be a religion and has become a civic organization like the Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, and Elks. These civic organizations are about doing what is good for business and the community. They are our secular religions.

Guengerich tries to base his model of the new revised God on an appreciation of our utter dependence as human beings and interdependence which is his view should evoke a sense of gratitude. I don't see this gratitude in our secular culture other than in response sometimes to crisis if people can overcome their fear. But in this time of rapid social change, fear and anxiety is palpable in American Society whether we fear "terrorists", or immigrants, or felons, or anybody or anything unfamiliar. A fearful people is not a grateful people and there is a huge leap required to get from fear to gratitude, and religion, especially Unitarian Universalism is not helping much in helping people and our society bridge that gap.

What is needed is forgiveness. It is in forgiving that we give up our resentments, our grievances, our envy, our competitiveness, our jealousies, our fears, and we begin to see our brothers and sisters on this planet as our selves and we act on a deep belief that we are all in this thing called Life together. Excluding some and favoring others does not work in the long run for anyone, and yet our society thrives on the bogus idea of specialness, some people are more special than others.

If Unitarian Universalism is to grow and thrive it needs to get back to and expand on its Universalist roots that we all go to heaven and we all are loved by God who has no favorites in spite of what our egos tell us. Our Universalist faith is based on the idea that we are all forgiven our stupidities, our mistakes, and God welcomes us all home even the stray and lost sheep, and the prodigals.

A religion for the postmodern time eschewing totalizing certainties must be based on forgiveness and if it can do that, then we can all gratefully celebrate.

My Kind Of Church Music - "I'm Sorry, Brenda Lee

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Do you know a person of God whom you've learned from?

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

Monday, June 23, 2014

If you would have gratitude, first seek forgiveness.

Galen Guengerich's ninth chapter in his book God Revised is entitled, "What We Owe: An Ethic Of Gratitude" he writes: "For an ethical imperative to have relevance in the modern world, it needs to be more like the law of gravity than the Ten Commandments: grounded in the nature of things, not in a supposedly divine set of commands developed three thousand years ago." p. 175

Rev. Guengerich then goes on and describes an ethic of gratitude by writing, "An ethic of gratitude insists that we take everything personally. And we should pay the most attention to situations where the malevolent use of human agency has done the most damage." p.189

Rev. Guengerich writes a bit further, "In many cases, of course, we exercise our agency more through the institutions we sustain - including our religions - than through discrete personal decisions." p.182

I saw a bumper sticker today, Sunday, 06/22/14, about 3:15 PM, on the back of a Dodge Caravan with a Marine Corps logo on it that said, "Thank a soldier for your freedom." I immediately felt angry and muttered to myself, "Fuck no!" "I don't owe my fucking freedom to no god damn Marine who has chosen to provide himself a fodder for what the Pope and other of the major world religious leaders called immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and before that Viet Nam. I am not grateful that somebody's kid is off killing people in foreign countries in my name under the guise of giving me freedom.

Guengerich writes:

"This state-of-nature point of view - every person pursuing his or her own interests alone - is both descriptively wrong and theologically demonic. In fact, we owe everything to the people and the world around us. My freedom to flip on a light switch, open the faucet, turn on the television, pour a bowl of cereal, unlock the door, drive to work, deposit my paycheck, make a phone call, check a website, get a physical - the list could go on forever - is strictly contingent. I cannot do any of these, things, at least nothing will happen if I do, unless a lot of other people have done a lot of things upstream, including making laws and regulations. In this sense, my freedom increases only as the people and the world around me expand my ability to choose and act. Freedom is a function not of independence but of reciprocity. Our freedom to create more value in our own lives depends, ultimately, upon our commitment to use our agency to create a world that contains more value for everyone else as well.". 181

A little further Rev. Guengerich writes, "Gratitude becomes an ethic when we respond to this awareness by using our freedom as moral agents to nurture the world that nurtures us in return." p.181

Rev. Guengerich may well be right for advanced, mature souls, but not for fearful people who have been frightened by "terrorists" and who give up their moral agency in return for supporting soldiers to go kill people to keep them safe. Should we be grateful to these soldier/killers for our freedom? Our government and the military/industrial/governmental complex would have us believe this and act on it by paying our taxes and lending our political support to the self serving policies of the power elites and their syncophants.

Guengerich's idea of an ethic of gratitude is premature because there first needs to be an ethic of forgiveness which requires the human agency of taking responsibility for advocating for justice, equity, and compassion in human relations especially when justice, equity, and compassion have been lacking. Once that is done, we can feel grateful but not before.

As the bumper sticker says, "If you would have peace, first seek justice." The bumper sticker could almost as easily have said, "If you would have gratitude first seek forgiveness."

Saturday, June 21, 2014

What will make me and you happy?

How do I know what the right thing to do is?

The Dali Lama said that the meaning of life is the pursuit of happiness. Great! I think he is right as far as he goes, but the bigger question, of course, is what will make me happy?

In our capitalistic society the answer is money and things. Most people in America worship Mammon. The religion of America is materialism. Walmart, Target, and the malls of America are America's cathedrals where people go to worship. Black Friday is the holiest of the holy days of the year.

Has materialism made us happy? Up to a point, but then banality sets in and even worse our possessions own us, we no longer own our possessions and we suffer the side effects of environmental degradation and divisiveness between the haves and the have nots.

Rev. Galen Guengerich's eighth chapter in his book, God Revised, deals with the question of ethics and is entitled, "How We Should Live: The Source of Ethics".  He writes, "In a secular age, the process of establishing ethical standards is more complicated than opening a book of scripture or doing what seems right in our own minds." p. 155 So what should be the basis of an ethical code which guides us in how to live the good life? Guengerich reviews some of the ideas which have come down to us through history and then writes at the end of his chapter "The key to doing what's right is to focus not on fear but on the calling." p.172

He writes a little further, "How do we decide what we ought to do in a particular situation? What values do we use to set our moral compasses and from where do these values come? To answer these questions, we turn to the ethics of gratitude." p.172

I don't know how Guengerich arrived at the conclusion that the ethics of gratitude is the answer to the question of where our values which inform our ethics should come from. Maybe we will learn more in his ninth chapter where he seems to intend to address this question.

My answer to the question of where our values which inform our ethics come from is Jesus, The Holy Spirit, the Muse, Mother Nature, Cosmic Consciousness, Higher Power, Tao, Great Spirit, Spirit of Life, whatever, whomever you want to call it. The moral compass comes from within informed by the without. The moral compass ultimately is Love. What would Love have us do? The question's utility is based on our purity, our ability to chose between the ego, and what A Course In Miracles calls a "Miracle". The "Miracle" is a shift in perception from the ego plane to the spiritual, to the plane of Love. The fourth principle of the Principles of Miracles is, "All miracles mean life, and God is the Giver of life. His Voice will direct you very specifically. You will be told all you need to know." T-1.I.4:1-3 God's voice is always there talking to us. The question is whether we are tuned in and open to hearing it? Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. People who are pure of heart live examined lives. People who are pre-occupied with the ego live lives of drama.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:7 - "Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you." It seems that the key, here, is in the presence of mind to ask. It would seem to me that the basis of this purity of heart is humility first, along with self awareness, then perhaps gratitude, but first comes humble curiosity, inquisitiveness, innocence of wanting to know God's will for us.

So, I am worried that Rev. Guengerich takes us down the wrong road. We shall see. I think gratitude is important and a contributing aspect of important values that inform our ethical code for how to live the happy life, but I think first comes humble curiosity and willingness to do God's will and not our egotistical own.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Forgiveness the breath of life and the path of transcendence

Galen Guengerich writes in his book, God Revised, "One reason religious traditions can get away with being illogical and historically perverse is that they engage the realm of the transcendent, which is  what distinguishes religious communities from other kinds of communities." p.141

Rev. Guengerich stresses our utter dependence on one another and the world and he writes, "The religious experience of utter dependence is twofold: a feeling of awe and a feeling of obligation." p.141

Religion in our secular society has become a commodity in the marketplace of ideas and entertainment. Should I go to church on Sunday or to the ballgame? The sense of awe and obligation are gone. Religion from the Latin word "religare" means to bind, to restrain, to hold back, and in this day and age not many people want to be bound to something, let alone held back or restrained.

Religion is also a culture made up of values, beliefs, practices, and a history of traditions which define, inform, educate, and inculcate ways of thought, feelings, and behavior. In the old days, religion defined who you are, a Catholic, a Jew, a Protestant, a Buddhist, and now days it is joining a club like being a member of a bowling league or a Rotarian or a Scout. People change their allegiance to a religious denomination like they switch brands of the products they purchase. Gone are the days of awe and obligation. People are much more shallow and less willing to put down roots in the sense of making meaningful and long term commitments. The data proves this when studying church membership and attendance and Unitarian Universalism is no different from other mainline Protestant churches in losing membership.

Rev. Guengerich writes "The elements of an effective worship service need to address four key aspects of human experience: what's true, what's broken, what's right, and what's transcendent." p.145 I was struck by the simplicity of Guengerich's analysis and I reflected on how many of the worship services I have attended where these elements were not effectively addressed, especially "what's true" and I felt very demoralized and alienated and lost interest in further attendance. As I think about this, I am struck by the fact that many preachers are afraid. Pastors are afraid of telling the truth because it will offend certain members of the congregation or the community, and so things get watered down, or "overlooked", and what is very significant in many churches is what's not said, the elephant in the living room. I am reminded of Edwin Friedman's great book, "A Failure Of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix"

It is hard to feel awe and obligation to what's not true or to an organization with hidden agendas. The core of a well functioning church is "right mindedness" and without it one cannot move on to the One mindedness of the Holy Spirit. It is written in A Course In Miracles, "Salvation is nothing more than 'right-mindedness,' which is not the One-mindedness of the Holy Spirit, but which must be achieved before One-mindedness is restored." T-4.II.10:1

Not only are Pastors afraid to speak the truth, they may not know the truth. How can you conduct a worship service where an important element, if Rev. Guengerich is right, is dealing with the question, "What's true?" if you don't know the answer to this question yourself? Can you teach what you don't know? Can you lead when you don't know the way yourself? Can you share what you don't have?

And where is this knowledge to be found? It is not "out there". It is not to be found in the external world. The truth which religion deals with is inside a person; it is internal. The truth of religion is to be found on an inward journey not on an outward journey, and this may be where Unitarian Universalism has missed the boat, is barking up the wrong tree, is going in a mistaken direction. Jesus says in Mark 8:36, "What good is it if a person gains the whole world, but loses his or her soul?"

What is the soul of Unitarian Universalism? Rev. Guengerich says for Christianity it is love, for Jews it is obedience, for Muslims it is submission and for UUs it could be gratitude. Will gratitude save us? I think not. Gratitude is nice, helpful, important, but before you get to gratitude you must first deal with forgiveness and it is with forgiveness that I recognize my utter dependence, re-establish my right mindedness, find peace, and go home to God. How can practicing the Unitarian Universalist religion help us forgive ourselves, each other, and the world? The world is heavy with grief, disappointments, abuse and injustice, and the alchemy of religion is to turn suffering into joy, fear into peace, hatred into love. If Unitarian Univeralism could help us learn how to forgive ourselves and each other it would be a powerful and facilitating force for saving the world.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The ongoing saga of Alicia and Greg - What is church?

"People ask me if I am religious and I say, 'I'm spiritual but not religious'", said Alicia

"That's cute, Lice, but a lot of people say that, and I don't even think they know what that means, cuz I ask em, and they can't explain it," said Greg.

"Well, I believe in a Higher power and all that but I don't believe all the shit most churches tell you ya got to believe if you are going to be one of them and not go to hell, ya know what I mean," said Alicia?

"Certainly, people, these days, are not going to believe in bull shit just cuz some preacher tells em they've got to believe it and then makes up some cockamamie reason quoting some scripture from the bible. How lame is that," said Greg?

"It's not like its a scientific fact, or a historical fact, but does it make you a better person? Does it help you have a better life? Isn't that the thing, really," Alicia said?

"Everyone wants to be happy, right? So what will make you happy? You got to take that on faith at first and then try it and see what happens. Listen, Lice, I'm a practical guy. My therapist says to me all the time, 'So Greg, how is that working for you?' and he kind of smiles and waits for me to say something. The guy really gets into my head and makes me think. He's one of the most spiritual guys I know, but you'd never know it just looking at him," said Greg

"Maybe that's why people are dropping out of churches, because what they are telling people isn't working for them any more," said Alicia.

"Yeah, if church isn't nurturing a person's inner spirit why go," said Greg?

"President Bush said it was god telling him to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, and he ended all his speeches with "God bless America" like God wants us to kill millions of people for what? End 'terrorism' whatever they mean by that," said Alicia.

"That religion is pretty fucked up," said Greg. "What church did he go to?"

"I don't know, one of those fundamentalist churches I think," said Alicia.

"Well, I'm not going there," said Greg.

"Jesus, said something about telling the difference between a good church and a bad church by the fruit they bear, and Bush's church certainly didn't, doesn't, as far as I know, bear good fruit," said Alicia.

"I like Jesus," said Greg. "Gandhi supposedly said one time that he loved Jesus too and the New Testament and if he ever found a church that actually followed the teachings of Jesus he would convert from Hinduism to Christianity. I would guess he was being sarcastic, but I agree with him," said Greg.

"I don't know if we will ever find a perfect church, Greg. It we are gonna go to church we will have to be willing to settle for one that isn't perfect or I guess we can just continue to go it alone as we have been," said Alicia.

"Maybe we should start our own," said Greg.

"We don't know what we are doing," said Alicia. "We would make thousands of mistakes. It would probably flop even if we could get something going."

"My God wouldn't care one way or the other," said Greg. "All my God would care about is whether we had any fun and learned anything from the experience."

"I like your God," said Alicia. "Maybe you and me and this God is our church."

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Church - Lot's of luck finding a place like that

"We should go to church," Alicia said. "I feel like something is missing."
"Fine," said Greg. "You pick the church. I'll go with you if you want."
"I don't really know where to start. Just pick one and go, I guess," said Alicia.
"What are you looking for?" asked Greg.
"Well, I'm not sure. I've been reading this book by some UU minister called, God Revised, and I kind of get his idea but it seems kind of fuzzy, and I don't know what kind of a church there is that meets his description of what church should be," said Alicia.
"Oh yeah, that's the gratitude guy, right, in New York City," said Greg?
"Right. He says we are dependent on everything. We are born dependent on others and as we age we become dependent on others again, and most of us don't acknowledge that our independence is only a temporary idea in the middle of a long life," said Alicia.
"You looking for a church that's going to take care of you," asked Greg?
"No, I'm not looking for a social services agency, if that's what you mean. I'm just looking for a place where I feel I belong, where I can fit in, where I can say what I really think and feel without people judging me, and where I can share my hopes and dreams and people will be excited for me and me for them, and we all have this sense that we are in this thing called life together and are willing to help each other to become better people, and maybe that is too much to hope for because it probably doesn't exist and I'll never find it," said Alicia.
"You are a dreamer, Alicia, lots of luck finding a place like that," Greg said laughing.

My Kind Of Church Music - Church, Lyle Lovett

Friday, June 13, 2014

Instead of "God" use the word "Life" and see what happens

In the fourth chapter, What's Divine: The Experience Of God, in God Revised, Rev. Galen Guengerich describes from a historical perspective the many ways we humans have understood God. He briefly discusses the ontological, cosmological, and teleological proofs for God, but at the end of the day, Guengerich points out that our understanding of God is more an experience than an intellectual understanding.

Rev. Guengerich describes God as all our experience of Life on which we are utterly dependent. He writes "...I believe this experience of being extensively connected to the universe and utterly dependent upon it is an absolutely necessary aspect of a fulfilling human life. It also provides the foundation for the experience I'm referring to when I use the word "God." God is the experience of being connected to all that is - all that is present, as well as all that is past and all that is possible." p78

A few pages later, Rev. Guengerich writes, "But God doesn't have to be a person-like being for us to take the experience of God personally. Our experience of beauty, for example, can be intensely personal - even if there is not a person in sight.............God can be deeply felt, even if the experience isn't directly mediated by a person-like presence." p. 86

Neale Donald Walsch, the author of the Conversations with God books, suggests that instead of the word "God" we use the word "Life". I like Neale's idea. Try it. Instead of the word "God" substitute "Life" and see what happens. I think Neale's idea and the practice of it, gets to the experience of God that Rev. Guengerich is trying to describe.

It has been pointed out that God is a verb, a process, not a noun. In the Old Testament, God tells Moses I am who I am in Exodus 3:14. God is "isness". Luke Skywalker in Star Wars called it "the force" and he would say, "May the force be with you." and of course, how could it not be with you so perhaps Luke could have been more precise and said, "May you be aware of the force within you and use it well."

Guengerich points out that "Life", the Force, not only dwells within us, and on which we are utterly dependent, but we also contribute to the agency of Life/God by our decisions and actions. Reve. Guengerich writes, "To say that we are the presence of God in this world is not a metaphor. We are the face of God in this world, and God's voice and hands. God changes outcomes in this world only as we change them. God is not an independent agent, in other words. God is dependent on us. The active agency of the divine life emerges though our choices and actions." p.88

Wow! Rev. Guengerich is describing a vision of humanity as co-creators with God. When my two children were killed by a 3 time drunk driver, I never blamed God. I blame the alcohol which created huge problems for the driver and tragic deaths for my two children. Alcoholism is a terrible problem in the United States and around the world and we can't blame God for it. At some point, we have to take responsibility for the problems as well as the blessings we create in Life.

This understanding of God as a process, a force is sophisticated and difficult for most of humanity to grasp. Most of us anthropomorphize God and create Him in our own image. Our understanding of God is a projection of our own virtues and deficits onto a symbolic object which is a figment of our own imaginations. God for many people is Santa Claus and sometimes a stern and punishing bad Santa who loves some little boys and girls and hates others. This Santa justifies and encourages countries going to war and killing other people, and helps teams win athletic contests.

The conjuring of the ego has been very destructive in human history and yet recognizing and enjoying our responsibility to Life brings, as Rev. Guengerich writes "...a fulfilling human life." What kind of a religion would help people become co-creators with God of this thing we call Life? It definitely would be a religion for grown-ups who have outgrown their belief in Santa Claus.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Is personhood real or just a social construction?

In Chapter 3 of his book, God Revised, Rev. Galen Guengerich discusses the nature of existence. In philosophy this is called ontology, the study of being. There are two approaches to this question that I like best, linear and reductive, and systemic.

We can come to know things by breaking things down into their component parts or observing how they behave over time. This approach has made science very successful and works well too for mechanics.

The systemic approach is to conceptualize things as interacting in a system and the mantra of systems thinkers is "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts." UUs acknowledge system thinking in their seventh principle respecting the interdependent web.

As we observe and reflect on life from both a reductive and linear view, and from a systems view we realize that there is no such thing as "a person" but rather a manifestation of relationships. If we reflect on our own experience we realize that there are thousands of sides to our individual personality because we are one person with our parents, another with our spouse, another with our children, another with our co-workers, with our neighbors, with our friends, with various authority figures we encounter, etc. Each "other" and each situation brings out a little different side of our personality and with each we have a different identity. Every person who "knows" us has a different identity story about us as we do about them and so who is the "real" me? Rev. Guengerich writes in his book, God Revised, referring to Walt Whitman, "Whitman's central insight is that the self exists in a system where everyone is who they are by virtue of their relationships to everyone and everything else." p. 57

Rev. Guengerich writes:

The essence of the individual, according to Whitman, is made up of all the relationships he or she represents. If teased all the way out in space and back in time, these relationships ultimately include everything whatsoever. Some of these relationships appear trivial - unless we consider that everything had to happen precisely as it did for us to be here today, just as we are. It turns out that the story of Galen Guengerich, the cosmos, began not on September 3, 1957, or even nine months earlier than that, but in the beginning." p.58

Rev. Guengerich writes a few pages later in his book, God Revised, "The present builds a bridge from what is past to what is possible.

The question before us is how to construct the bridge and whether religion forms a part of it? As I will discuss in upcoming chapters, religious faith and practice at their best can help liberate us from the limitations of the past and help us construct a more promising future. Religion is about transformation - about making good on our desire to become better people and make our world a better place." p. 61

The focus has been shifted from the individual to relationships. Identity, what we call the self, is, as we have seen, a social construction, it does not exist other than as a witness to our body, our thoughts, our emotions, our behavior, our social status. What is this witness? Where does it come from? Perhaps it is the witness that has inherent worth and dignity and not the body and its ego.

Monday, June 9, 2014

How do we know what we know?

In Chapter 2 of God Revised entitled "How We Know: The Quest For Certainty", Rev. Guengerich traces a brief history of epistemology when it comes to religion. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are known as "the people of the book" because they base their beliefs on the claimed authority of divine revelation of their scriptures.  Guengerich writes, "What comes first, belief or understanding?" p.33 What I think he means is, do our beliefs come from our understanding, or does our understanding come from our beliefs. If we get our beliefs from what we are told is the revealed word of God in a holy scripture, this is a powerful influencer of our understanding of our experience which we interpret through that lens of belief. On the other hand, if we pay attention to our empirical experience and then draw conclusions we are developing our beliefs from our understanding.

Unitarian Universalists are not people of the book. They tend to be more practical and rely on their experience as a test of what to put their faith in. The problem with this approach is that we can be easily fooled by our own bias. Rev. Guengerich retells David Foster Wallace's story: "There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them, and says, 'Morning, boys. How's the water?' And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, 'What the hell is water?'" p.28 Unitarian Universalists have been accused to being "too intellectual" and "smug". Perhaps we assume more than we should and think, in our not knowing, that we know that we don't know and so are better than those who think they know.

Rev. Guengerich writes, "The idea of a God who ensures that everything will ultimately be all right is enormously appealing. The Bible says (Romans 8:28) that 'All things work together for good for those who love God' - a lovely sentiment. It just happens to be wrong. Sometimes things work out for ill, and sometimes things don't work out at all. Without an authoritative revelation from a supernatural God, life can sometimes be lonely, and even bewildering." p.42 The psychologists and philosophers call it "existential anxiety". The belief in a supernatural God who is in charge of us and our lives quells our anxieties and comforts us, but this is a childish belief similar to our dependence on our parents when we were children. At some point our parents are not there any more and we must learn how to care for ourselves and others. One of my favorite models of human development goes like this: You believe in Santa. You don't believe in Santa. You become Santa. We come to a point in our maturity when we take responsibility for ourselves, for others, and for the world we live in. The question remains, "How do we know the right way to live?" As Socrates said over two millenia ago, "The unexamined life is not worth living." and a healthy religion is one that helps us examine our lives and supports our efforts to achieve a greater quality of health and happiness. Can Unitarian Universalism do that? If so, how?

My Kind Of Church Music - I know what I know, Paul Simon

Saturday, June 7, 2014

What is religion for?

If religion is not about the belief in a supernatural god and attempts to get to heaven and avoid hell as most of us have been taught, then what is it? Rev. Guengerich asks in his book, God Revised, "What is the human predicament that only religion can resolve?" p.17

My answer is that religion helps get from here to there. Religion helps us create and experience the Good Life. Religion is the support for our "faith" in how to live a more satisfying, fulfilling life for ourselves and our fellow human beings and all the creatures of the planet. Does your religion help you do that? If not, then you need to work with others to create one that will.

Rev. Guengerich writes, "... we'll discover that religion is not mainly a set of beliefs. Rather it is first and foremost a way of life. For this reason, the comprehensive religious question is not, "What do you believe?", but rather "What do you do?" How do we spend our time and money? Fill in this sentence stem, "What matters the most to me in my life is_____________." Whatever you answer is the basis of your personal religion.

Once we are honest about what matters the most to us in our lives, we will understand what we consciously or unconsciously worship. Human beings have all kinds of idols and in our contemporary life, usually don't recognize them as such until they are asked how they spend their time, energy, and money. Rev. Guengerich writes, "The hallmark of a religious community is the experience of worship." p.17 Worship is experienced at the casino, at the football stadium, on black Friday at the mall. Sometimes it is experienced on internet porn sites, at the bar, at work as we put in our 60 hours in pursuit of the promotion and a "atta boy" or "atta girl".

Some of us who are more philosophical have taken Socrates' words to heart, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Many of us might say, "I would love to live an examined life but who has the time?!" Often we don't take the time, until we hit bottom and Life forces it on us and then we have to choose between live or die? Hitting bottom, experiencing an existential crisis often leads us to examine our lives whether we wanted to in the past or not. As we realize that we can't continue to go on in the way we have been going, we know that we have to get our lives on a better track, and we start to imagine what that better track might be. At this point, many people "get religion". We start looking for others who can help us find the way, and in this search we join with them in what, I think, Guengerich is calling, "the experience of worship."

I asked an acquaintance of mine one time, "Why should I go to church?" and she replied, "Because someone there might need you." Good answer if you are co-dependent or of a mind to be of service because you have something to give which will make you feel good in the giving, but maybe, I am the one in need and I need them. Worship is where we help each other understand how to get from here to there in Life. As the Beatles sang, "I'll get by with a little help from my friends."

When Rev. Guengerich asks the rhetorical question, "What is the human predicament that only religion can resolve?" I answer, "To support my spiritual quest for happiness and to create the Good Life for myself and others." This is an internal not an external journey. This is about removing the obstacles and blocks to the awareness of Love's presence in myself and others. Religion is about helping each other not get to heaven but to find heaven within ourselves and amongst us. The next question, of course, is how? As Rev. Guengerich suggests, it is not about what I believe as much as how I live. It is not just about intellectual understanding, it is about experience.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

What don't you do that you should be doing?

Rev. Galen Guegerich writes in his book, God Revised, in chapter 6, "Keeping the faith"; "Faith requires a leap of moral imagination to connect the world as it is to the world as it might become." p. 121

This idea might raise a question such as "What don't you do that you should be doing?"

What are you going to keep doing that sustains your faith, or what new thing could you do that would be an act of faith in your life based on your belief that what really matters to me and others in my life is _____________. Leave your intention in the comments to go public with your own intention and perhaps to inspire others. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Does religion require a belief in a supernatural God?

Galen Guengerich writes in his book, God Revised, "Simply put, this book reconciles religion with the modern world." p. 16

Rev. Guengerich points out that in this secular age we have a lot of choices when it comes to choosing a religion or none. We no longer rely on the "faith of our fathers and mothers" as a religious and spiritual path for our future. Our understanding of the world has changed and very rapidly.

Many people still believe that God is supernatural able to command the forces of nature and is like Santa Claus dispensing gifts to good little boys and girls and withholding gifts, if not punishing them, when they are naughty. I call this the "vending machine" view of God. We insert our credits, our good deeds, and expect a reward in return. When we don't get what we paid for we feel cheated and blame the machine for malfunctioning or even worse deliberately betraying us.

As a species we have learned that the gods don't manipulate the laws of nature. As Rev. Guengerich writes, "...these fundamental laws of nature have existed from the very beginning of our universe, they apply everywhere, at all times, and they do not change. The evidence now demands that the idea of a supernatural God, like the idea of an Earth-centered universe, must be revised. It should rapidly be relegated to the category of archaic relics." p.12

Childish thinking and understandings have been exceeded in our current understandings of science, and we, homo sapiens, have learned about these natural laws of the physical universe and can manipulate the phenomenon sometimes for our benefit and sometimes for our detriment. At any rate, it becomes increasingly clear that the Santa Claus god will not save us from our own mistakes and stupidity. We have to become smarter and wiser very fast to appropriately and judiciously use the powers we have acquired by our knowledge and technical skills. Rev. Guengerich writes, "The great religious challenge of our time is adapting our faith to the reality that God is not supernatural." p.13 We are slowly realizing that God is within us and that we are co-creating what we call "our reality" with God. We are slowly realizing that God is a verb not a noun. God is a process we call Life of the universe. We can cooperate with the laws of Life or manipulate them narcissistically for our own pleasure and to our own will at our own peril.

Guengerich's position is that there is no supernatural God, but even without a belief in a supernatural God we need religion more than ever. Why? What would a religion without a belief in a supernatural God look like, operate like, function like? What would be it's purpose?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

God Revised - How can you lose your faith when it is someone else's?

This is a reposting of an article from June 1, 2014. It is as relevant today as it was 4 years ago.

Today, Sunday, June 1, 2014, we begin the study of Rev. Dr. Galen Guengerich's book, God Revised. We will be reporting on it for the month of June and I hope that you will add your comments as we go along over the course of the month. It is a wonderful book with many wonderful ideas well worth consideration. Chapter 1 is entitled "Where we began: from Mennonite to Manhattan". In my case it was from Roman Catholic to Unitarian Universalist. I know that you have your story too. Of course, in the end we all end up in the same place, released from our bodies back to the Universe whatever that may bring.

Reverend Gugenrich writes:

"When I went to Princeton (not a Mennonite seminary), many of my relatives feared I would lose my faith. This did not happen. What I lost was someone else's faith; what I began to seek was a faith of my own. I wanted to be myself. I wanted freedom."

Galen Guengerich, God Revised, p.9

Jesus says something very similar in Matthew 10:39 "Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Osho says that the first step on a spiritual path is rebellion. 

As human beings with dichotomous minds we learn from comparison and contrast, the old ying and yang of the Tao.

I like the way Rev. Guengerich puts it though, he didn't lose his faith, he lost someone else's. This freed up the space to develop his own.

Seneca writes in his seventh letter, "When a mind is impressionable and has none too firm a hold on what is right, it must be rescued from the crowd: it is easy for it to go over to the majority."

A little further in the same letter, he writes, "...but the fact is, not one of them is really capable of understanding you. You might come across one here and there, but even they would need to be trained and developed by you to a point where they could grasp your teaching. 'For whose benefit, then, did I learn it all?' If it was for your own benefit that you learnt it you have no call to fear that your trouble may have been wasted."

The Road Less Traveled as Dr. Scott Peck wrote is a lonely and sometimes solitary road. It takes courage, discipline, and faith to move forward listening and trusting in the intuitive wisdom of one's own heart and soul.

A client, looking for reassurance I would guess, asked me if I believed in god. I replied, "What god is it that you are asking me about?" It was not a helpful reply because she looked scared as if she had asked something wrong and so she was being punished by being put on the spot to explain herself. 

For some of us, our belief system is a fragile thing and without it we fear psychological annihilation. It might be argued that believing in something is better than believing it nothing for the psychic structure it provides to bind anxiety. Yet, this belief system eventually becomes old, a prison, and we start to question. What is the good life and how can I best create it for myself and others? Rev. Guengerich apparently got to a point in his life when he wanted to do it himself and not just wear hand me downs. There are few of us like Rev. Guengerich who have, at some point in our lives, decided to do the same, to set off on our own to find out what our own lives are about not just what someone else has told us they should be about.

For me, I was in the Catholic Seminary back in the old days for 4 1/2 years for 10th grade of high school to the second year of college. When I told the rector, I  had to decided to leave the seminary he told me, "David, I truly believe that you have a vocation and God wants you to be a priest. I believe that Satan is tempting you." This was a man who up to that point I respected, and rather than dissuade me, his words made me all the more sure I was doing the right thing. Now, almost 50 years later, I am certain I did the right thing, and smile when I recall what he said to me. I am sure from his perspective he thought he was telling me the right thing, but alas, the Spirit of Life works in strange ways, and as much as I respected this man, I new he was mistaken. There were too many "mysterious" in the Roman Catholic church for me to base a life on, let alone pretend to be an authoritative representative of. As Rev. Guengerich puts it, I didn't lose my faith I just begun to find it. I had lost the religion of my childhood. At 19 it was not working for me any more.

I don't know where I got the courage to go off on my own. I suppose, in the vocabulary I had learned at the time, I would describe it as the Holy Spirit inspiring me, that small inner voice that we can carefully listen to to help us discern God's, Life's, will for us. We grow uneasy with the old answers, the old cliched beliefs, the anxiety that there is more than what is being told and explained, and then like Dorothy, when she reaches the Oz, we realize that the mysterious, omnipotent authority is a wizened old man behind a curtain and most of what we have been taught is simply illusions to quell our anxieties and solicit our obedience to the hidden agendas of those who would benefit from perpetrating the illusion on the gullible and innocent masses.

What about you? What have the pivotal points in your faith journey that have led to where you are today? How have they manifested themselves and what has come about?

The next article will address what Rev. Guengerich calls the "plurality of options" for understanding the purpose of our existence and for assistance in creating meaning in our lives.

My Kind Of Church Music - My Way, Frank Sinatra

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