“And a great silence was heard by all.”
A few years ago a fellow came to our Fellowship and gave a sermon lecture on spirituality, its plurality in both source and substance, and how the natural world provides that sustenance for some people.
It was an outstanding talk, well prepared and thoughtfully presented. I sought out the speaker, a rarity for me, interested in getting the name of the numerous books he referenced during the talk.
I immediately went out and stocked up on the books he referenced, some completely new to me, others on my “to read” list that had suddenly shifted priorities.
Among the books and authors: The Island Within by the Alaska author Richard Nelson, anything and everything by William Berry, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, Wild Mind – Living the Writing Life by Natalie Goldberg, The Great Work by Thomas Berry, and Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh.
As you can tell by the list, the topics are wide ranging and sourced from a variety of faiths; the Zen Buddhism of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Catholicism of Thomas Berry, and the more naturalistic spirituality of others.
I wonder how many of our current members heard that talk, and more so how many of them remember it.
Now, years later, this same fellow has joined our fellowship, volunteered for, and worked for (literally, as an employee) the betterment of our so called community.
His recent resignation (see postings “mixed news for democracy” and “streams of thought“) has left a bad taste in my mouth, one that grows increasingly bitter with time and as my perception of the event grows.
Recently I sat through a Sunday service celebrating Charles Dickens (a Unitarian) and his work “A Christmas Carol.” The play was great, ad hoc, funny, and perceptive, a typical UUFF celebration.
There was, however, for me and perhaps me alone, a noticeable void in the service. A community member, one who had generously given of themselves, was no longer welcome among us.
As mentioned above, I’ve struggled with why this is so. At one point, I thought it was the UUFF phobia of ministers, be they Unitarian, Baptist, or otherwise. Religious professionals are not welcome among us, at least not for any longer than to give a sermon and get stuck back on a plane to the states.
Then there are the conspiracy theorists among us, who felt a power play was in place to wrestle control away from the “old timers” and board members and give it to the new members- referred to from here on out in this post as “the sheep.”
It occurred to me, sometime during Scrooge’s interaction with the ghost of Christmas future, that what drove this witch hunt (odd for a religious tradition that celebrates its originators for being burnt at the stake for heresy) is the fear of spirituality.
Many of our members appear to associate spirituality with evangelical Christianity, and too many reject it as worthless altogether. They are comfortable being an intellectual, Sunday morning social club devoid of souls on a search for greater meaning. Which is fine, except that ‘they’ don’t own the rights to dictate that spiritual sterility to the membership at large, despite their longstanding memberships or large donations.
So along comes a growing group of new members (the sheep), ‘perceptively’ led by this former minister of a Christian church, urging UUFF down a more spiritually diverse path. This new exploration of faith, brought about by new members who arrived at UUFF searching for answers, not scared or scarred by ministers, or by discussions of god or Jesus, has now been properly admonished.
A line has been drawn.
Instead of down the middle of the Fellowship, recognizing both sides have valid contributions to our community, it is outside the front door.
Spirituality is not welcome here.
Christianity is not welcome here.
Don’t call this a church.
Don’t talk of ministers.
Don’t talk of Jesus.
Our principles look great on paper and sound great when we recite them, but don’t expect us to actually act upon them, or let them guide our actions.
And so, without so much as trying, we’ve now become like every other religious organization. Say one thing, and then do another.
My early experiences at UUFF taught me that was the case, that there were people who made their home at UUFF not because of the principles, or due to a spiritual quest, but because there was no dogma or organized structure to take them to task for their immorality.
I accepted that, feeling that those few didn’t represent the membership at large.
Now I am not so sure.
I am not so sure I can sit through services any longer either, feeling that void in the back of the sanctuary, sucking my energy out, preventing free exploration of mind and spirit.
The part of me that takes strongest offense to the line separating them and us wants to step across it, wiping it away each time it gets redrawn.
Again, and again, and again.
Until it is gone, and we are once again a community.