At UU Church West, we are a people of….
That's the question we'll be exploring at UU Church West month-by-month from September 2011 through June 2012 via "theme-based ministry." Theme-based ministry is a worship and learning practice designed to give us a deeper and richer experience of our faith and practice as Unitarian Universalists.
Each month we’ll reflect on and explore in depth a different theme through sermons, newsletter columns, music, and through stories, resources and programs for children and adults. The themes may also find their way into UUnity Circles and other small groups as well. We plan to unpack the themes in ways that will help all of us engage our spiritual and religious lives more richly and fully, ways that can aid us with the real life challenges and opportunities we encounter.
About forty key lay leaders provided ideas to help us shape the monthly themes listed below -- and we'll be asking them for input on each one as the year unfolds. They will provide resources, ideas, bibliographies, and more!
We hope you enjoy exploring with us this year -- come back to this page often, for we will add materials frequently. Use the links in the table below to access each monthly theme.
|September 2011: We are a people of Exploration
||February 2012: We are a people of Transformation
|October 2011: We are a people of Justice
||March 2012: We are a people of Courage
|November 2011: We are a people of Compassion
||April 2012: We are a people of Spirit(uality)
|December 2011: We are a people of Wonder
||May 2012: We are a people of Gratitude
|January 2012: We are a people of Vision
||June 2012: We are a people of Community
Exploration means venturing into the unknown – whether that is an unknown place in the world, or a previously- unknown corner in our own psyches. When we explore, we seek, we quest, we follow our longings. Sometimes explorers have maps to follow, and sometimes they venture out to the edges of the world – to the places where, in medieval times, the maps were marked with pictures of sea serpents or were marked “here be dragons,” to warn the casual traveler of the perils that awaited in the unknown territories.
To be a people of exploration means that on a basic level we Unitarian Universalists value and honor human curiosity. In the sense of process theology or religious naturalism, we might even see it as one of the ways human beings help the sacred process of creation unfold.
What is justice? (from the Rev. Suzelle Lynch's October 2011 newsletter column) More than simple fairness, justice implies a certain rightness of the relationships between people, and between people and the organizations and institutions of the larger society in which they live.
Benedictine sister Joan Chittister writes, "We live in a world with a shifting economic center that is leaving in its wake a whole new world of poverty and unemployment and undersubsidized public services that breed crime and destitution and ignorance and malnutrition and underdevelopment and revolutionary anger. And new improved political meanness to control it." She asks, "Who will reform this system?"
Our answer: A People of Justice.
Compassion, at its root, means “to feel with.” It’s a quality of understanding another, of being with them in their pain and suffering — a quality encompassing sympathy and empathy, and a moral virtue that scholars of religion like Karen Armstrong say “lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves.” (From Armstrong’s “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life,” p. 6.) Compassion is not only something we direct outwards, however; we must also be able to extend our compassion to ourselves.
To be a people of compassion for us as Unitarian Universalists ties into several of the principles of the UUA — for example, that we “affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” as well as “justice, equity and compassion in human relations.” Our covenant to respect the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part invites us to extend our compassion beyond humanity to all living things.
What we have found in our explorations of wonder is that "wonder" is a wonderful word -- one with many different meanings!
For example, to wonder is to think or speculate curiously -- So a people of wonder perhaps delight in asking questions and seeking new insights.
To “wonder at” something means to be filled with admiration, amazement or awe -- and thus perhaps a people of wonder are prone to gasping! "Wow," we say, "Look at that!"
To wonder also means to doubt -- as in, "I wonder if Santa Claus will really come down my chimney this year...." A people of wonder are folks who like to have proof, who like to get all the facts before they accept or believe something.
But wonder has even more meanings. When we call something “a” wonder it means we think it is akin to a miracle; “a wonder” is something surprising or delightful or strange. And wonder is also a feeling -- that lifting of the heart and lighting up of the mind we feel when something unexpected or delightful takes our notice!
Wonder also happens to be one of the six major sources we believe our Unitarian Universalist faith draws from. In our wider UU Association’s statement of Principles and Purposes we say: “The living tradition we share draws upon direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.” Being a people of wonder is part of living our faith.
JANUARY 2012 -- We Are a People of Vision
Vision. In our church, or in other organizations, we think of vision as that ideal state toward which we aspire -- the goal that motivates us to live our values (or, as the Bible’s book of Proverbs says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish…”). But vision is also the sense of sight, or the ability to see. And some people have visions -- meaning that they see something that isn’t there -- either in a spiritual sense, or in an imaginary way. And if we called our church “a vision” -- we’d mean that it is lovely or beautiful in the physical sense.
“A people of vision” are those who are far-seeing, those who have a sense of the possible and who work toward their vision of a better world. Visionaries are necessarily a bit idealistic -- and that certainly describes Unitarian Universalism! Many of us have individual, personal visions, of course -- visions of success for ourselves or our children, visions of peace in our families or in the world, visions of things we hope to do or places we’d like to see.
Blind musician and superstar Stevie Wonder describes well part of vision’s shadow side. He says, “Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn't mean he lacks vision.” Visionaries can be so charmed by their own ideals, they forget the real world and other people.
Transformation is one of those words with a simple meaning. It means a change, particularly in form or structure. But when we use the word transformation in church, it becomes one of those words with a big meaning: it means to become deeper, more open, more loving, more joyful, more at peace, more related to oneself and to others and to the larger Wholeness of which we are a part. Here, transformation means the change that involves knowing ourselves, understanding ourselves, as part of something larger than ourselves. To be “a people of transformation,” means being those who practice this kind of transformation personally and collectively and who help create a place where others might participate in personal and societal transformation as well.
March 2012 -- We are a People of Courage
The word “courage” comes from a French word meaning “heart,” and many classical philosophers and scientists, including Aristotle and the early Roman physician, Galen, considered the heart the seat of reason or emotion. To be courageous meant to be full of heart -- able to think and to feel and to fully respond to life.
When we hear stories of courage, they are usually stories about people doing something extraordinary like running into a burning building to save the people still inside. But all of us have courageous moments -- for example, most of us could also tell stories of how we found the courage to change a habit or conquer a fear. Often the courage of ordinary people is something that must be re-found and renewed, day by day.
Spirituality. What is it? Type that simple phrase into an internet search engine, and more than two hundred thousand possibilities come back – including these two short definitions: “devotion to metaphysical matters, as opposed to worldly things,” and “Activities which renew, lift up, comfort, heal and inspire both ourselves and those with whom we interact.” Some of us remember that the word “spirituality” has its orgins in Roman Catholicism as a term used to distinguish religious practice from religious belief.
What is gratitude? Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk and student of Buddhism calls gratitude “the full response of the human heart to the gratuitousness of all that is.” Gratitude is our human response to the welling up of joy or amazement we feel when we become aware of some beauty in our lives or some gift we have been given.
What does it mean to be a People of Community? Community is a word that can mean a group of people who share common values and who help each other. Our Unitarian Universalist principles say a lot about this kind of community. They ask us to gather in congregations to accept each other and encourage each other to grow spiritually. They ask us to affirm and promote justice, equity and compassion in all human relations and the goal of world community, too. They ask us to promise to respect the interdependent web of all existence, of which we’re part. On a very basic level, our UU principles remind us that even though each of us is an individual person, we human beings don’t exist in isolation. To be able to live, we need other people, animals and plants, and the earth. Our UU principles remind us, too, that not only do we need each other for survival; we also grow best in mind and spirit through our relationships with other people.