Theology is a broad topic in any religious tradition, but especially so in the creedless tradition of Unitarian Universalism. Nevertheless, I find meaning in the classic definition that theology is "faith seeking understanding." By faith, I do not mean belief; it has nothing to do with how many impossible things you believe before breakfast. The word "faith" derives from the Latin for trust – trust in a value, a power, or (for some) a being which transcends my own simple self, whether natural or supernatural, personal or impersonal. It is trust in something on which I can rely to make sense of my world.
As Unitarian Universalists, we are free to define the object of our faith in ways meaningful to us, but in our covenantal religion, where individuals make promises to one another – promises that form communities greater than the sums of their parts – we each need faith, trust in more than just me myself, to enter together into those covenantal bonds. If I trust no one, I cannot authentically enter into covenant with anyone.
Of course, faith can have more than one object; many of us rely on, trust in multiple sources. For myself, my spiritual life has led me to a faith in a presence I have experienced deep within myself, yet also far beyond myself, a sacred presence that I have come to know as God. This presence nurtures my sense of connectedness with the universe, and with other people – so I know it also as Love. This ever-present Love is a source (though not the only source) for strength and inspiration when I struggle to make my way through life on my own.
And yet, my faith in the God-who-is-Love in no way negates my faith in the overwhelming power of nature, the capacity of human community to offer healing and liberation, or many other sources power and meaning. Despite some powerful spiritual experiences that have impacted my life profoundly, I cannot claim to have a full grasp on spiritual truth, and I have no expectation that anyone can know the sacred mystery in full.
Christmas Eve service
UU Church of Greensboro
December 24, 2012
Thus I‘ve come to value the importance of stories and metaphor, not only to convey larger truths, but as a fundamental way in which we human beings make meaning in our lives. To understand something for us means to be able to tell its story. I appreciate the narratives of sacred scriptures from many traditions and their abilities to make sense of our world. Deep meanings about fundamental aspects of life are conveyed through these stories, regardless of their historical accuracy.
Since seminary, I myself have been most inspired by the stories of the life and ministry of Jesus, found in the Gospel writings. Like the 19th century Unitarian Theodore Parker, I reject the religion about Jesus, but affirm and follow the religion of Jesus – the way of loving the divine and loving humans, especially those marginalized and oppressed, while rejecting the idolatries of empire. Thus I value these and other sacred stories, not for any literal truth they claim, but for the metaphorical truth of their teachings.
In interim ministry, a church and minister with contrasting theological perspectives and emphases often find themselves matched together for a year or two. This, I believe, is good, even healthy. We as people of covenant, not creed, are called to accept, even affirm, those people whose perspectives differ from our own. That includes hearing our various views on life and faith with minds open enough to be changed, even as we continue to affirm our core values.
SERMON TEXT ON THEOLOGY