Monday, April 1, 2013

Finding in Unexpected Places

This past July I attended a week long retreat at Pendle Hill called "The Art of Spiritual Discernment" with Nancy Bieber.  I had long wanted to attend a program at Pendle Hill and this one spoke to me strongly.

It was a wonderful week filled with insights.  I had expected it would be but what I did not expect is how I found there what I had long sought within Unitarian Universalism - a truly diverse group of souls, exploring spiritual questions together, respectful of each other's differences and learning from one another.  I have kept in touch with this group, I have asked for their prayers, and held them in mine.  

I knew of Unitarian Universalism long before I joined or even attended a UU worship service.  While I was working at Catholic Charities in the early 1990's I used to walk into the San Francisco UU building.  They have beautiful tall slabs that speak to the equality of the Scriptures - that all are holy, all contain truth.  This is something I had long believed. 

This is what I had hoped to find in joining Unitarian Universalism - a place where people of different beliefs, different backgrounds could risk sharing deeply together.  Yet it has been rare that I have found those places within in UUism I am sorry to say.  Occasionally in a covenant group or a one on one conversation but not generally as part of the whole culture of a congregation.  Too often I have found our congregations to be places of mere tolerance as long as one is not too vocal in one's beliefs.  Too often places where every religion except Christianity is welcome. Places where a great deal of time is spent watering things down to a lowest common denominator.  Often I as a religious leader censored myself before anyone else could - afraid that the words I might use would be too theistic, too Christian or too whatever.  

Yet at Pendle Hill here was this diverse group of people - Quaker, Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, UU (I wasn't the only one) etc. We were diverse in age, diverse in why we had come - yet we were all searching to live our lives more faithfully - to listen to where the Spirit was calling to us. We were invited, actually instructed, to do our own translating - i.e., people were invited to speak using the language and words they were most comfortable with and it was up to each of us to translate it for ourselves.  It was amazing!  Yes people used words that wouldn't be mine and I didn't expect that person to change to meet my needs.  I was invited to take responsibility for my own spiritual understanding - not expect others to change to meet my needs.  It is what I expected to find within Unitarian Universalism but have found there only rarely. I too did not need to censor my words, afraid that they would offend or open up old wounds.

The potential of our UU faith is to offer places for diverse people to explore their faith together.  For that to happen each person needs to take responsibility for their own spiritual journey.  Each needs to do their own translating - and be curious and respectful when engaging with others.  We need to stop once and for all the everything but Christianity attitude that is still all too prevalent.  

It has been my experience that it is in progressive Christian communities that I have found the most respect for diversity.  Both Pendle Hill and Richmond Hill have offered a place for diverse people to gather without watering down their own identity.  They practice true radical hospitality.  They have provided places where I can explore myself, my faith.  I can be challenged in my faith by wrestling with the words of others.

I love the potential of Unitarian Universalism and yet I find myself longing for more actualizing of our potential.  I long for us to be a place of radical hospitality, curiosity and deep respect.  I long for us to speak deeply of who we are which may mean doing some work to figure that out.  I want us to embody revelation as open and on-going through curiosity and openness and a lot less of the "we don't believe...."  

It has been a joy to find what I have been looking for in places like Pendle Hill and Richmond Hill and now I long to find more of it where I had expected to find it ... within my chosen faith.