My Theology

ExPluribusUnum, or "one from many", is the Shortest Way to Describe My Theology.

I believe that we are all mere human beings trying to make sense of our existence; so we should keep that in mind when we interact with one another. We are one people, composed of many persons. "God" is found in the love we share. The only way to get to that holy place is to practice more love!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Should all Unitarian Universalists embrace a neutral humanism?

This morning I received a message from a friend who recently joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation for the first time a little under a year ago. The message asked for my take on an article posted on the Huffington Post titled "Welcoming Unitarian Universalists Home to Humanism", by the executive director of the American Humanist Association, Roy Speckhardt. At the time, I thought that the article was freshly written and posted - I now see that it was originally posted on that site in 2013. Nevertheless, I enjoy receiving such queries from friends and gave my friend a rather wordy response, essentially stating that I disagree with much of the author's premise, and explained why using just the first sentence of the article. I will respond to the content of the rest of the article in as many posts as necessary, and I hope to continue the many great conversations I have been having with UUs and others about the past, current, and future state of affairs among Unitarian Universalist worldviews.
And now that I've piqued your curiosity and you've read the article (seriously, read that first), what follows is a version of the response I sent to the friend who asked my opinion. I invite your opinions in the comments. I welcome constructive criticism and debate. I do not tolerate abusive language or mean-spirited diatribe. Here we go!
Note: There has been discussion over the appropriate use of the word "humanism", and the differences between various forms it takes, such as religious humanism, secular humanism, etc. What I understood from the word's use in the article and the meaning that I ascribe to it below is probably more accurately termed "nontheism", or "antitheism", as the case may be.

What an interesting article! Thank you for sharing it with me. My take on it, for the most part, is that I disagree with him almost in entirety. Starting with the first sentence, which reads in part that a humanist approach has been viewed as "the appropriate neutral philosophical place for all UUs to convene". Full disclosure - I am a theist, not a humanist, but I will try to be as unbiased as I can in my response. By and large, I don't believe that UUs should be neutral in our outlook, philosophy, faith, or other positions, whenever a strong opinion is preferable to neutrality. I also oppose the insinuation that "all UUs" must have the same position on the nontheist-theist continuum. That misses the larger point of Unitarian Universalism altogether.

From among our Six Sources (listed here with our Seven Principles), the one drawn from humanism itself reads:

"Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;"

One of the major influences humanism has had on Unitarian Universalist thought is that we cannot and ought not allow any one "idolatry" overtake us. Note, too, that it says "of the mind and spirit". We should no more idolize the supremacy of reason than we should allow theism to be the only valid stand that a Unitarian Universalist may choose. Sure, humanism has held a high position of power and influence in the UU world for decades now, but it certainly should not be the place where we all "convene". Rather, I believe that we each forge our paths, along with others on similar paths, and we convene together with our differences and learn one from another. "God talk" may be uncomfortable from time to time for those who don't find such language useful, or even believe it to be harmful. The lack of such "spiritual" language is distressing for those of us who are not humanists. Church should be a place where we work through our discomforts, together, not a place where everyone toes the same line.

All that from just the first sentence! 

Humanism is a vital and necessary part of Unitarian Universalism...but it is only a part, not the whole.

I now ask self-identified humanists who read this article: What is your take on it? Do you feel threatened by shifts in language or tone in your congregation? Would an increase in "god talk" in your congregation, if not to the exclusion of more "neutral" language, be a deal-breaker for you? My observation is that this same argument — that one or the other group within the broad tent of Unitarian Universalism is falling victim to some position ostensibly hostile toward it — is being made from all sides. Many UU Christians and other theists have written similarly about how humanism threatens the historical dominance of theistic thinking in our earlier history. This is not a new conversation, but the tide seems indeed to have swung some, which is what I imagine spawned this article. I hope we can find our way to a place where people feel validated, secure in their views, and unthreatened by those who don't share their theological/philosophical stances. 

Bet you weren't expecting an essay! But there you have it, my take. Or the beginning of it, anyway.

To be continued...

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Resolutions 20:15

It's 2015 now, and a question that's asked over and over this time of year is "what are your new year's resolutions?" Generally, my response has been something along the lines of, "I don't make new year's resolutions". This year, however, I decided to set several goals for the year and so I have shared those with people instead of resolutions. But the more I think about it, the more I realize how foolish I'm being. What good is a goal if you don't have the resolve to strive to attain it? So to any of you who received my self-righteous answer, I apologize! And I resolve to make a decent effort to achieve the following goals in the year ahead:

  1. Health. My management of my own health has been half-assed and reactive for several years now. I have pretty much been coasting along and only addressing issues as they've arisen. In 2015 I will be more proactive and manage my physical and mental health in better ways. Now that I'm approaching 36 — which is not that old! — I can't really afford to take my fitness for granted.
  2. Education. I have been telling myself for almost half my life now (!) that I will return to school to finish the undergraduate degree that I began but never completed. Once again, there have been half-ass attempts in the past to do this, but it's time to hunker down and git-r-done! (sorry...couldn't help it.) I also want to attend seminary and explore the possibility of becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister of some sort. That'll be easier with the undergraduate experience.
  3. Redacted*.
  4. Family. I am very liberal, progressive, and open in just about every way you can imagine. But there are still areas where I have more traditionally-minded opinions. Last year, my partner and I became husbands by legally marrying in a beautiful ceremony at our church. See? Traditional. This year, I would like to do the research needed for us to lay the roots we would like for our family. Will we buy a house? Will we have children? Will I finally take a class in personal finance and become a real grown-up? 
  5. Relationships. I have admitted more than once that I have not been the best friend for the past several years, and I have not done much to sustain loving relationships with family members either. I can come up with many reasons why this has become the case, but I don't want to make excuses. I can and will do better! I will send cards, write letters, make phone calls, and visit more often. This is absolutely necessary.
  6. Spirituality. I will pay more attention to my spiritual life, and will do the things that bring me peace, joy, happiness, and edification. Some of these are playing music, attending performances, reading, writing, studying, hiking, praying, speaking French, being mindful, being grateful, going to church regularly, and making my husband happy.
  7. Purpose. I will be more purposeful about my life. One way I will do this, for now, is by adding more structure to my days so that I can actually pay attention to the goals I have set for myself for the year. I will review my goals periodically to make sure that I am working toward their attainment, and I will add/subtract goals as they are needed or met.
So, there they are. My new year's resolutions as of today, January 6, 2015. Your prayers and support will be greatly appreciated for the next twelve months. I got this, y'all! Thank you.

I'll link related posts below as they are written. Happy New Year!

*Goal #3 will be revealed when appropriate.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Do Black lives really matter in America?

If, God forbid, I were to be killed by an officer of the law, I wonder what types of things would be alleged about me in public conversation.

I wonder what sorts of opinions would be shared by the public at large. How would my character be maligned? What misjudgment would I have made that would turn out to be the ultimate cause of my justified killing? How would everyone come to believe that it was my fault? Because, of course, it would be my fault.

Some parents advise their children just to be themselves and act naturally if they have an encounter with the police. Other parents, black parents, have to teach their children that acting naturally is dangerous and can get them killed. Black youth have to learn to be character actors in order to survive. Literally.

“But A – you don’t have anything to worry about. You aren't in a gang, you aren't a thug, you don’t commit crimes. You’re respectable, you’re well-liked, you don’t get into trouble.”

Does it matter? No. Black skin is threatening. Black speech is threatening. Black culture is threatening. Shoot first, ask questions later. If I ever found myself “in a situation”, would I live long enough to play The Part? Would I live long enough to play that role that we – Black children – are all taught, and convince a scared cop that I am not in fact dangerous?

You see, all Americans grow up in a racist society. You may think that you are not a racist. Indeed, you may not be a bigot with overt racial prejudices spilling from your lips; but the institution of racism is alive, well and thoroughly embedded in our society and culture. Each of us is taught to fear The Black Man. The Black Man is a savage beast. The Black Man is a wanton criminal. The Black Man must be kept in check. The Black Man is a menace to society – his number must be closely managed. We are all taught to fear The Black Man.

We have all been raised in a society that has taught me to fear my own reflection. I watch you cross the street when walking toward me on the sidewalk at night. I watch you women clutch your purses a little closer. I watch you stare straight ahead and walk sternly forward, ignoring my “hello, good evening”. But it’s OK, I understand. I’m dangerous, and you’re just using common sense – the sense of self-preservation that every good American has. I do the same thing if I’m approached by two or more black men that I don’t know. Obviously, they are up to no good. Otherwise, they wouldn't be walking together, right? What business do two or more black men have prowling around like that? It’s unseemly. Obviously, their “hello, good evening” is a pretense to get my attention so they can taunt me, rob me, or beat me, or tauntmerobmebeatme all at once. Right? Obviously. What in the world could a random Black Man that I don't know –  a stranger – have to say to me on the street? Nothing good, obviously. Black culture glorifies violence, right? I mean, there's so much else for the average Black Man to focus on, right? So much sunshine and rainbows...right?

How much deeper the fear for someone who doesn't look anything like me at all? How much more afraid must someone be who doesn't have an insider’s knowledge, who doesn't know any “good” Black Men (what are those?).

None of this makes any sense. Am I just rambling? How do we make sense of race in America? How do I make sense of my existence? Do you have to make sense of your existence? Do you have to think of excuses to explain why you are? Do I have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Am I still only 3/5 a person?

Do you ever have to ask yourselves these questions? Where do the answers come from? Are there any answers?

You, America, you brought me here against my will. I have played by your rules. I have been a slave. I have been a servant. I have been every sort of subservient, impoverished, groveling not-quite-a-man (in your eyes, my eyes, reality?), and I can’t win. And now you don’t want me here. Where can I go? Where is home? Who am I? When I stand up for myself, you beat me down. I beat myself down, because I have been taught that it is too dangerous to speak when I haven’t been spoken to. When I stand up for myself, I am playing the race card, because after you've suffered injustice for long enough, is it still injustice?

Or is it just Life?

Even when I am successful, I cannot win. “That’s pretty impressive, for a Black Man! You're so well-spoken! So articulate!” Sounds like, “Wow, I didn't know monkeys could talk!” Yes, the successful Black Man is a trained monkey. Right? When will I be allowed to be fully human? When will you respect me, America? When will I be able to stop looking over my shoulder? When can I stop carefully monitoring what I can say, what I can do, how I can move in the world? Because the world was made for You, and I’m an ingrate of a guest in your house. Of all the possible outcomes to this game, is there any where The Black Man can win?

I’d settle for a draw.

But still, I wonder what America would say about me if I were to be cut down before my time. Do you ever wonder about such things? When will I stop fearing my own reflection? How will you help me? What more must I do to help you?

Do Black lives matter? How can you tell?