Showing posts with label Reading Buehrens/Parker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reading Buehrens/Parker. Show all posts

Monday, January 28, 2013

Reading Buehrens/Parker - On what do we base our faith?

In part four of A House For Hope: The Promise of Progressive Religion for the Twenty-first Century, Rebecca Ann Parker and John Buehrens write about "Foundations" the basis for belief in God.

There is the story of John Buehrens asking atheists "What God is it that you don't believe in?" that seems to get to the crux of the issue. People of the books say that God is "revealed" in the scripture and that very scripture warns against idolatry.

The psychologists tell us that everyone believes in something whether they are aware of it or not. Everyone has a motivating understanding of life that gives their lives meaning whether it is money, sex, family, drugs, work. As humans we have our gods which we worship and devote our lives to.

On Beliefnet where there is the "Belief - O - Matic", the 20 question quiz which helps people select a religion which best matches his/her beliefs, the first question is:

What is the number and nature of the deity(ies)?
1. Only one God - a corporeal spirit (has a body), infinite, supreme, personal; the Creator.

2. Only one God - a incorporeal spirit (no body), infinite, supreme, personal; the Creator.

3. Multiple personal gods (or goddesses) regarded as facets of one God, and/or as separate gods.

4. The supreme force is the impersonal Ultimate reality (or life force, ultimate truth, cosmic order, absolute bliss, universal soul), which resides within and/or beyond all.

5. The supreme existence is both the eternal, impersonal, formless Ultimate reality, and personal God (or Gods).

6. No God or supreme forces. Or, not sure. Or, not important.

7. None of the above.

My guess is that most Unitarian Universalists will pick 4, 6, or 7.

Parker supports North Whitehead's  ideas of God which are called process theology. She writes on page 105, "Rooted in science, reason, and intuition, process theology provides a way of understanding the existence of God that progressive theology can embrace in the twenty-first century". Process theology sees God as the force working for creation in an ongoing way. It focuses on becoming rather than being.

Parker writes a little further on page 106 "God's beauty shimmers, dances, melts, and flows. The angels circle up and down on Jacob's ladder. We set up marking stones at the epiphany places and build our theological houses. Meanwhile, God invites us to open the door and cross the threshold into mystery."

As Jesus asked his disciples "Who do you say that I am?" the number of people, especially young people, skip the question by replying that they are "spiritual" and not "religious". The so called "nones", the fastest growing segment of the population in the United States deny any religious identification and affiliation. The mythic stories told by the mainline denominations and religions fail to gain their allegiance and adherence. There is nothing there that they can identify with. These mythic stories are considered irrelevant to their experience and so they eschew participation. 

So what do these "nones" believe? My guess is that they believe in a moral life that is secular and humanistic and their fellowship is derived from being sport fans, music fans, and consumers of a materialistic culture which constantly tells them that their search for immediate gratification can be met with a pecuniary purchase. This is the American way, a way they deeply believe in, it having been preached to them by politicians and corporations since the days of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

What is it, if anything, which Unitarian Universalism has to offer them that is relevant, meaningful, empowering? The perennial theology of Unitarian Universalism drawn from the six sources is too pedantic, and the seven principles too pedestrian. Unlike Parker's endorsement, it seems that process theology doesn't quite capture the heart with sufficient inspiration either. What will be the foundation for a vibrant, viable faith in the Twenty-first century is yet to be defined and described. The meta-narrative is yet to be developed and disseminated. It will have something to do with Love of all living things and stewardship of the planet.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Reading Buehrens/Parker - The roof, salvation

I am way behind on the discussion of Buehrens and Parker's book, A House Of Hope: The Promise of Progressive Religion for the Twenty-first Century. We are on part three "The roof" where the topic is salvation. This topic entails interesting questions like what is evil, how are we to be spared it, and if it occurs, or god forbid we perpetrate it, how are we to be exonerated, redeemed, how is the sin to be atoned?

Parker points out that much of Christianity has been crucifixion centered, the idea that God put His Son, Jesus, to death to expiate our sins. It's a crazy idea but one which works well for us when we feel full of shame and guilt. It's like the belief in Santa Claus. Jesus came to give us the gift of expiation for our sins washing away our guilt, pooooof, just like that if we believe it, that He is our Lord and Savior. Sure, I'll believe that. What a deal. I can put my responsibility and the responsibility of others who have sinned with me into a figment of my imagination reinforced by the manipulation of charlatans who benefit from my allegiance to their insane theology and giving them power and money.

Further, as Parker points out, crucifixion centered theology provides us with the idea of redemptive violence, the idea that inflicting pain and death on people somehow provides a sense of justice and exoneration and is redeeming. This idea has caused tremendous pain and suffering in our sorry world where fear of pain, torture, attack and execution runs deeply in our psyches.

Parker asks the question, "what is evil?" and she answers "Evil is that which exploits the lives of some to benefit the lives of others." She goes on and writes:

"It chooses ways of living that destroy rather than sustain the delicate web of relationships that make life possible. Evil's accomplice is anesthetization. When the senses have been numbed, and feelings have been stifled, responsive reverence is dulled, and love has no air to breathe. p.68

I would add that evil is often unconscious, it is stupid, it lacks empathic understanding of the karma that destructive actions precipitate.

If evil is a lack of consciousness, then consciousnesses need to be raised. We need to have consciousness raising groups, activities, relationships where we are continually calling ourselves and others to become our better selves. It is this witnessing and advocacy for growth and transformation stemming from loving concern and kindness which is the antidote to evil and which is so easily mocked in our cynical world.

Parker writes; "Love is protected and saved by those who embody presence, wisdom, resistance, gratitude, and humility." p. 71

Parker goes on:

"Do you want to know how I believe we are saved?" my grandmother once asked me. "We aren't saved by Jesus's death on the cross. People believe that focus on hocus-pocus and avoid having to live out the teachings of Jesus. We are saved by every person in every time and place that has stood up for what is true in spite of threat. Like Socrates did. Like Jesus did. Like many others have done." We are saved by a communion of saints. They shelter us, and we have the opportunity to be in their number, here and now. p. 75

Indeed we are saved by courageous men and women who stand up for truth, justice, and the highest ideals of humanity. By providing an enlightened witness and advocacy slowly cultural consciousness changes for the better. It is an organic process that takes minutes or days for individuals and  years if not decades for societies. The courageous men and women need a place of refuge and support. That refuge and support hopefully comes from the church but even the church can be corrupt as we can see from history, and so authentic refuge and hope comes from faith. Faith in our better nature, faith in possibilities of a better world, faith in the goodness of humanity and the world. Our salvation comes from many traditions and understandings, and as Unitarian Universalists is comes from living according to the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism drawn from the Six Sources on a daily basis which is a practical manifestation of Love which surpasses all understanding.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Reading Buehrens/Parker on UU ecclesiology - What is the role of the church?

The second part of Buehrens and Parkers book, A House With Hope, deals with ecclesiology, the study of what it means to be a community, a church. Unitarian Unversalism is a covenantal ecclesiology rather than a revelatory ecclesiology where the truth has been given to some but not to all and many are dependent on the few for the truth and guidance. Unitarian Universalists believe that each individual has inherent worth and dignity, and believes in the free and responsible search for truth and meaning,  and has something to share with the whole. This understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts is to recognize and acknowledge grace in the world. Jesus told us that where two or more are gathered in his name, there he (Love and Grace) will be.

We recognize this grace in a colloquial way when we say that two heads are better than one and three heads are better than two. We intuit that we are social creatures and rely on each other for feedback which influences our awareness and identity. The Sociologist  George Herbet Mead called the social mirror.

Buehrens writes on p. 54: “Covenant as a concept is not just about commitment to a particular community. Because of its connection to hope, it is also about a community’s commitment to a vision without which we all perish.” 

We all need to belong to something bigger than ourselves from which our identity and safety flows. Without it, as in primitive tribes where shunning was used as punishment, we die. And what is that vision of which Buehrens writes? He doesn’t articulate it specifically, but I take it to mean the seven Unitarian Universalists principles derived from what UU identifies as its six sources. It is a theology which is unique and ultimately is based on love.

Further, Unitarian Universalism relying on its ecclesiology of covenant, should strengthen its recognition of Grace which gives rise to awe, and gratitude because we become aware with grace that we are loved and cared for by the Universe for no other reason than that we were given birth to what Matthew Fox calls the Original Blessing which is LIFE and which is our natural inheritance. This LOVE is made manifest in our care for one another and the world. As the Pagans marveled at the early Christians when they said, “See how they love one another,” we, too, as Unitarian Universalists should strive to create this same culture of love in our congregations and in our relationship with the world.

Buehrens writes: 

“Too much liberal and modernist religion, I fear, is all too likely not only to forget that ground, but even to think that covenantal relations are simply a matter of our own intentionality, and not a gift – what the Puritans called ‘a covenant of grace’, rather than one of works. In the biblical tradition, after all, the most basic of covenants were initiatives not on the part of human beings, but on the part of God, starting with the covenant of being itself, the Creation.”  P.53

Whether we know it or not, are willing to recognize it or not, willing to acknowledge it or not, we have a covenant with LIFE, the universe, that which sustains our existence here. The Buddhists call it “right relationship”. We, have lost our way as a species, as we destroy the planet we live on. The ecology is contaminated in significant ways and our wrong relationships with each other lead to genocide both intended as in the holocaust, and unintended as resource inequality leads to millions starving to death.

And further Buehrens writes, “Robert Bellah was right when he suggested that the radicalism of authentic covenantal hope is necessary to subvert our too easy, liberal complacency with any status quo – if we are ever to fulfill the promise of our heritage: the promise of covenantal, democratic community in right relation with others and with the creation. And that hope must now be both global in its vision and local in its realization.” P. 55

To overcome complacency, we, as a Unitarian Universalist people, must commit ourselves to continuing quality improvement. Our Universalist heritage tells us that our work is not done until the whole body of Christ is saved, brought to enlightenment, brought to salvation. It is a work which Teilhard de Charin called the evolutionary trajectory from Alpha to Omega. The work of humanity will not be done until we have achieved heaven on earth. 

As we continue on the journey from Alpha to Omega, may our UU congregations be Oases of light and hope providing support and encouragement along the way. Our UU churches are the yeast in the dough, the salt in the stew, the source of nourishment and rejuvenation for weary travelers.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Reading Beuhrens/Parker - The three progessive eschatologies

Rebecca Parker describes in the first chapter of A House For Hope entitled "On Holy Ground" the progressive eschatologies three major forms. The first is the Social Gospel promulgated by Walter Rauschenbursch who believed ardently in social justice as being God's work on earth. This Social Gospel fueled the Civil Rights struggle of the 60s and its theme song might well be "We Shall Overcome."

The second eschatology is the universalist belief that we all will get to heaven, the only question is when and how. The Universalist Belief is  in the compassionate, unconditional love of God which is all inclusive. Parker writes on p.10

"In the early nineteenth century, the universalist preacher Hosea Ballou noted that if people imagine a divisive and punishing God whose desire for justice is satisfied by the crucifixion of his own son, they will model themselves after this God and feel justified in being cruel themselves." 

Universalism does not believe in a vengeful God and has rejected a belief in redemptive violence which has permeated the cultural Christianity of the United States, in particular, the most powerful county in the world which still practices the death penalty, alone among developed nations, and has supported pre-emptive wars and torture as an acceptable practice to satisfy its own interests.

The third progressive eschatology which Parker describes is what she calls "radically realized eschatology" which affirms that we already stand on holy ground, that we could be aware that we are standing in heaven if only we could only overcome the blocks to the awareness of Love's presence. This radically realized eschatology practices gratitude and strives to experience heaven on earth as is prayed in the Our Father "....Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". Bringing our wills into alignment with God's will for us is what contributes to peace and joy.

The first progressive eschatology, the social gospel, is best exemplified in the second and sixth principles of Unitarian Universalism. The second principle is to covenant to affirm and promote, justice, equity, and compassion in human relations and the sixth principle is to covenant to affirm and promote the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

The second progressive eschatology, universalist faith,  is best exemplified by the first, third, and the fifth principle which are to covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations, and to covenant to affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.

The third progressive eschatology, radically realized eschatology, is best exemplified by the fourth and seventh principles which are to covenant to affirm and promote the free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

In my new, young church, the Brockport Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, it seems that all three eschatologies are present, but it being a new church there is seems to be a greater emphasis on the inclusiveness of the Unitarian Universalist faith and a commitment to the social gospel without naming it such.

The purpose of church is to promote the "Good News" that there is hope for humanity in spite of the problems which plague us and the suffering we endure as individuals, families, communities, nations, and the whole world.

The major questions of what is the purpose of life, why do we suffer, why do bad things happen, where are we going as a species on this planet, and for what can we, should we hope are all answered in our eschatologies.

At the present time in our culture, in 2012, in the United States most people seem to think that money and guns will save them and keep them safe. Amercia, as a nation, has lost its way, it is a very small denomination which keeps the light a flame, weak as it is, that there is a better way and a more substantial foundation on which to base our hopes for a better experience of ourselves and others on this planet, earth.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Eschatology - purpose of human life in the universe

In part one of A House For Hope Rebecca Parker, in Chapter one, This Holy Ground, discusses eschatology which is the theological term for “last things”, “end times”, ultimate hopes. Most religions inject fear into their adherents speaking not only of personal death, but the final stage of humanity. I was taught as a young boy that I would go to hell if I did not accept the moral precepts and teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Parker writes on page 5,
“Scripts about the end of the world tend to become compulsive, self-serving prophecies. They feed what theologian Catherine Keller calls the West’s ‘apocalyptic habit’, predilection to see the impending end of history in one’s own time and to act it out.”
Christians have been waiting for Jesus’ return since he died. Predictions of the “Second Coming” abound and as I write this many people are expecting the end of the world in December of 2012 because of superstitious beliefs about the Mayan calendar.
Parker writes further, “Journalist and commentator Bill Moyers notes that ‘people under the spell of such potent prophecies’ represent a significant voting bloc in U.S. politics. As one leading U.S. senator aligned with this theological perspective put it, people cannot be expected ‘to worry about the environment. Why care about the earth when the droughts, floods, famine and pestilence brought by ecological collapse are signs of apocalypse foretold in the Bible?’”
This kind of apocalyptic thinking is quite different from the Unitarian Universalist view which is captured in the seventh principle which is “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part” as well as the view of Native American spirituality as when Chief Seattle said, “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
And so I wonder what UUs should tell the world about the destiny of human evolution? What does Unitarian Universalism teach about the nature of the world and the destiny of human beings in it? Is the Unitarian Universalist theology about the purpose of existence unique in any way and different than other mainstream religions? If so, what is the framework of meaning that Unitarian Universalists propose that humankind consider as they wonder about their purpose in the Universe?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Reading Buehrens and Parker - Theology: an individual or team sport?

In discussing the metaphor which they use in their book of a house, Buehrens and Parker refer to the metaphor first introduced in a series of lectures given for the Liberal Religious Educator's Association and then developed into a popular course which held that "...the image conveys that 'theology' - whatever else it may connote - is about the structures of meaning that shelter and shape our way of living. The image counters the common notion among liberals that every person must build his or her own theology from scratch - as if religion were only a private matter of personal belief, without history or community. In fact, liberal and progressive people of faith inherit a communal theological house, built by those who lived, labored, and loved before us." p.xvi

A little further, they write, "Both of us have long been engaged in interdenominational and interfaith cooperation - praying, hoping, and working for justice and peace; we are keenly aware of how often people motivated to live lives of service are missing an adequate framework for their commitments - one that moves beyond, rhetoric, platitudes, and isolated individualism into a sphere of deeper spirituality and shared life with others." p.xvii

Yesterday 12/06/12 a friend sent me this email in response to the article on the purpose of church:

Where a dedicated group is working together for social justice; is not (god) spirituality found in their mist? The degree of "the other" may differ in magnitude but the glue holding the movement together is what comes out of the hearts of those laboring for the cause. Your spirituality will always be different than mine. So we search for what works for us, It does not have to be a defined "Church" thing. What is important is that we do SOMETHING.

Here is my response:

At one level I agree that the actions are what's most important, but I am also interested in motivation and intention as well. Theology doesn't deal so much with what is done as why it is done. It is the meaning making and coming to shared meanings that creates a church or any relationship. As human beings, identification with meaning is important to us, and also leads to ethical understanding. Even the law recognizes this fact and various levels of crime are ascertained based on the perpetrators intention. We have agreed in our criminals code that per-meditated crime is more serious that impulsive or circumstantial crime. If I kill someone in a drunken rage I may be charged with manslaughter and do 5 - 15. If it is carefully calculated and planned act, I will be charged with first degree murder and could well do life or in some states be subjected to capital execution.

So I will argue that context matters because it facilitates the creation of meaning and it is the shared understanding of the meaning and significance of things that binds us together in positive relationship.

It is reassuring to me as I pursue the Unitarian Universalist faith that it is not just an individualistic matter and each person gets to make up their own stuff as they choose. This idea of libertarian theology where it is every person for herself seems divisive and alienating. I remember the course offered in the Rochester area entitled "Building your own theology". Designed to appeal to free thinkers and people put off by credal requirements for conformity, it seems to imply an every person for himself kind of theology which doesn't seem real. In fact it seems egocentrically childish.

When Buehrens and Parker write "... people motivated to live lives of service are missing an adequate framework for their commitments - one that moves beyond, rhetoric, platitudes, and isolated individualism into a sphere of deeper spirituality and shared life with others." it is reassuring that there is a recognition that there is something deeper to be sought out and understood in the faith that we share together. It is this common understanding of shared meaning that is the house they want to build to shelter us from our own egos and to raise our consciousness as referred to in the seventh principle of the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Questions for consideration:

Can a UU just make up his/her own theology without sharing some common elements with other people they have entered into a covenant agreement with?

How satisfying is the house metaphor for a shared theology for you?

Is it accurate that social activism based on rhetoric, platitudes, and isolated individualism not integrated into some deeper spiritual understanding is more superficial political activism and not a manifestation of valid religious activity?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Reading Buehrens/Parker - What about suffering?

In the third part of A House For Hope by John Buehrens and Rebecca Parker they discuss soteriology which is the study of salvation, deliverance, a release from the way of the suffering of the world. Using their metaphor, this is the roof of the house. They write, " Religion, at its best, provides shelter, for people and communities in need of healing, transformation, or sustenance in difficulty. How might the bible contribute to the struggle for 'deliverance from evil?' What constitutes progressive religion's understanding of what we need to be saved from- and how?" p. xii

As the Buddha taught us life is suffering. The Christian religion preaches salvation. The fundamentalist Christians insist that to be saved a person must be born again. And what about Unitarian Universalism's approach to the question of human suffering? What does its theology have to offer those in pain? What causes human suffering and what helps in being liberated from it? From what do we need liberation?

My idea is that we need to be released from our own ego mind and have our consciousness raised to enlightenment. Awareness ends fear and suffering. The UU fourth principle of the free and responsible search for truth and meaning may offer us a path from egotistical ignorance which may be the root of all evil. We shall see what Buehrens and Parker have to say when we get to their chapters on this topic. What do you think?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Reading Buehrens/Parker - Ecclesiology - what is the purpose of church and how does it best do its work?

In the second chapter, Buehrens and Parker promise to discuss ecclesiology which refers to the gathering together, assembly, congregation, the religious community. Using their house metaphor, Buehrens and Parker call this the "sheltering walls" of the house. They write, "And how can we approach religious community in ways that promote not competitive parochialism but authentic interfaith engagement and cooperation.?" p xii

While I think inclusivity and not exclusivity is a good thing I also am sensitive to the idea of integrity and the need for boundaries which creates an identification with a meaning jointly shared. As the bumper sticker says "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." UUs do believe in the 7 principles which they covenant to affirm and promote when they sign the book and join a congregation.

The governance of the church is very decentralized and supposedly democratic, and what this means in practice is unclear. Whether this local control is a good thing for the whole denomination can be an issue for debate, but how we, as a people, come together and relate with one another and the external world is an ongoing experiment. The question which goes unspoken is whether there is a corporate respect for a Higher Power which works through the church or whether the church is merely a secular organization similar to a civic club like Rotary or the Kiwanis?

Part of my faith is that there is a Higher Power working through the church and is manifested in the actions and mutual recognition of the faithful. I am not sure how many UUs think and feel the same way. However, if most of the faithful see the church is nothing more than a civic club devoted to social change and the amelioration of society, the church loses what is special about it as a societal organization and than is its mythic dimension of mystery, awe, and reverence.

Does God or a Higher Power, Spirit of Life, work through the UU Church or is the church similar to a secular organization working for the betterment of humanity and providing social support to meet people's social needs?

Does the church work primarily for social justice and positive change or is it also a vehicle for spiritual nourishment to help people become their better selves through a transforming grace?

Discussion Book of the month - A House Of Hope

One of the new features of UU A Way Of Life online magazine of faith is the spiritual book of the month. The spiritual book of the month discussion group selection will be discussed on UU A Way Of Life for a month. Readers are welcome to join in the discussion by adding comments to the posts. Also, readers may recommend books for upcoming months by leaving them in the comments or by sending them to

The book of the month for December, 2012 is A House For Hope by John Buehrens and Rebecca Parker. The authors write in the introduction "Our shared hope in this book is that, by reintroducing people to the forgotten theological resources of progressive religion in North America, readers will gain some of the resources that a seminary education can provide and will strengthen their social activism by becoming more firmly rooted in community ritual, and faith." p.xviii

On page ix they write, "Effective work for social change requires people of faith who are theologically literate and engaged. To that end, this book provides a primer in progressive theology."

Buehrens and Parker use the metaphor of a house and divide their books up into six parts corresponding to the parts of the house such as the garden, the sheltering walls, the roof, the foundations, the welcoming rooms, and the threshold. They write, "Theology, we suggest, is architectural - it provides a framework for human life. It is also ecological - it creates an interactive system in response to a specific environment."

I had fallen away from my Unitarian Universalist faith for several months for a variety of reasons, but feel the spirit calling me back. If is a faint call that I can barely hear but I can sense it. Having been raised as a Roman Catholic and drawn to Unitarian Universalism in the second half of my life I have felt attracted but have found little substance, nothing deeper that is expressed directly or easily, and I am wondering if this is the primary reason that the denomination has remained so small - there is nothing  that speaks to people or doesn't speak deeply enough to be spiritually nourishing.

Buehrens and Parker quote Sara Robinson on page x who says that Americans yearn for a deeper narrative describing their cultural story. UUs do not have a creed nor as defined a structure as other churches and so what it stands for seems more ephemeral, more idiosyncratic, and therefore provides no collective understanding that binds people together in meaningful relationship. The only thing, in this regard, which I find helpful is the seven principles which we covenant to affirm and promote.

Questions for consideration:
  1. What is it that binds UUs together in relationship? What works for you?
  2. What is your understanding of what church is, how it should function, what role it plays in yours and other people's lives?
  3. Do you agree with Buehrens and Parker that theology should promote social activism and social change?

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