One of the primary reasons Casper’s UUs decided to purchase ‘a home of our own’ a little over five years ago was to create a permanent space that could be filled to the brim with Unitarian Universalism; and when I look around the room this morning, I feel like we are all living and breathing a beautiful success story! Even though our mission statement describes us as a ‘spiritual community’ – for a long time now, I’ve felt like we are truly, through and through, a Unitarian Universalist community.
Obviously, in the world of religion, there are many ways to quantify ‘success,’ for example, counting warm bodies and filled seats; or managing the bottom line of a budget; or conducting surveys about programming and other important ministries; or even tracking how many weekday programs and activities fill up the church calendar.
All of these objective measures are important and should be included as ‘essential ingredients in a recipe for success.’
I also suspect I’m not the only one who is very grateful all these types of measures have been going in the right direction over the past several years.
But as someone who believes in the efficacy of ‘both/and’ I would also include those ingredients which are a bit more difficult to quantify, like for example, spiritual health. If it is true and UU Casper is both fiscally and physically healthy, because we live within our means and the roof doesn’t leak, is it also true we are spiritually healthy? How do we measure spiritual health?
First, I believe it is important to point out that not all of us have the same understanding of the word ‘spiritual’ and so if the term doesn’t resonate with how you understand yourself, does calling ourselves a spiritual community come across as exclusionary? Of course, as a person who is very comfortable with the term spiritual because I have a very specific understanding of my own spiritual nature, I hope those who are not as comfortable would bring an open heart and open mind to my remarks about spirituality this morning.
When it comes to being a spiritual community or a traditionally-organized church or a religious institution organized around a specific theology, obviously there are several ways to describe this building and the content within it. On one hand, the IRS designates us as a church and so we qualify for specific tax exemptions. On the other hand, we are in the business of doing good works, which for us means a lot of community partnerships with various social justice organizations. We also exist in the ‘non-profit’ world, so are a voluntary association of like-minded individuals. Historically, churches have been organized around “God” and so by extension, churches are in the forgiveness business – places where humans have gone to be forgiven for their trespasses against God and each other.
The Unitarian Universalist Community of Casper Wyoming is, for the most part, all of the above and a bit more. Because we are a doctrine-free religious tradition, it is up to each one of us to shoulder the responsibility of figuring out what exactly it is we believe; and in so doing, we create for ourselves a moral road map to help navigate our respective lives.
And, when you consider yourself to be part of a religious tradition which is not organized around a deity, it means each of us has assumed some degree of responsibility to help each other seek out and then articulate a source of ultimate meaning – kind of like creating a key to each of our road maps’ symbols and roadways.
As a Unitarian Universalist church – or spiritual community – the center around which we are organized is our Seven Principles – which can be found inside the cover of your order of service and the gray hymnal.
It is this simple set of affirmations which function as the ‘key’ to our doctrine-free road maps. And, in this way, belief in God or no-God is a personal choice and not a requirement for belonging.
The idea of a source of ultimate meaning has intrigued me through the years. Many of you know I was raised in the Episcopal church where the Our Father in Heaven God was the source and measure of all meaning. For the many people who do believe in a God, no matter if God is in human form or is an entity made up of pure radiant love, traditional religions are traditional because the source and measure of meaning is a divine deity or an ultimate source of all that is holy and sacred.
Because Unitarian and Universalism grew out of the Judeo-Christian tradition, belief in God was a given; and so it was the humanity of Jesus that began to capture the attention of our early theologians. By the time the American colonies had broken free from England, a more natural-world oriented movement called Transcendentalism was taking hold in the intellectual circles of New England. So along with the natural world, the influence of science and rationalism began changing fundamental Unitarian theology. The upshot of this change was a religion that, today in the 21st century, doesn’t require a belief in a God, or the divinity of Jesus, or that human nature is inherently sinful. Just like the American experiment in Representative Democracy, Unitarian Universalism has grown and evolved right along with it. I would also add a piece of my own contemporary personal theology in which I believe good religion is good psychology.
Another aspect of being Unitarian Universalist that intrigues me is this: if God isn’t the organizing principle and measure of all meaning; and if UUs espouse a Humanist Philosophy that rejects idolatrizing humans; and if UUs are committed to finding ways to truly value diversity; then is there some type of magic ingredient that makes our aspirations and beliefs blend and actually work together?
Is there a magic ingredient which helps conjure assurance that perhaps humans are good without God? Or that humans can be as good as a Loving God? Is there a magic ingredient which enhances our capacity for forgiveness – self forgiveness and forgiveness of others? Is there a magical elixir that expedites the evolution of outdated beliefs which are not meeting the needs of 21st century humanity? Is there a magic ingredient which enhances the evolutionary process which contribute to the flourishing of life in all its divine diversity while keeping unreasonable fears at bay?
Through the 35 years I have been a practicing Unitarian Universalist, I have come to believe there is a magic ingredient. In UU terms, this ‘magic’ is like universal truths which reveal themselves to us throughout every minute of every day and it is up to each of us to pay attention. For example, instead of devaluing the earth because it is home to sinful humans who can only escape its depravity by dying and going to heaven. The more humane truth revealed to us every day is that death is part of the cycle of life and our earthly home is also home to the spirits of all those who have lived before us because it is the final resting place of their bones and ashes; therefore to die and be laid to rest on the earth is a good thing – not a punishment.
But, until now, so much of the western religious tradition has been focused on one book or scripture that purportedly contains the revelation of one truth, unchanging through the ages and so openness to new possibilities has not been an option. With all due respect for where the western world has been, we are still traveling and the revelation of truth is no longer about mastering the demands of an omnipotent deity, it is about revealing and discovering the real essence of truth – possibility.
Truth-telling is essential to good mental and spiritual health because the spiritual essence of truth is possibility. Think about that powerful mantra, the truth shall set us free – free to do what? Free to enter a world filled with beautiful, fulfilling, infinitely creative, and life-serving possibilities!
When I think about the time leading up to the decision to purchase this building, it was essential for the conversations, all of them, to be honest. In the first years after making the commitment, we began teaching ourselves how to be our own landlords and so being honest was the best way to realize that possibility of success – because gutters leaked, chairs needed to be purchased, lights needed to be replaced, walls needed to be sheetrocked and painted, and decorations selected and hung. Another important part of our journey has been learning how to move away from relationship-based decision making and adopt our version of policy-governance – a possibility that many family-sized congregations like ours haven’t even considered possible!
But in our journey into the possibilities which were created when Casper UUs decided to become homeowners, the most magical ingredient of all is the leadership covenant we created for ourselves. A UU covenant is our promise to strive for right relationship above all else. For me, the covenant is the spiritual aspect of our principles – it is the magic ingredient that makes all the parts work together and guides us through the rough patches and periods of uncertainty.
(Please find the covenant in your order of service in join me)
We covenant with one another in the spirit of love and compassion to:
share honestly, listen actively, assume good faith, act with integrity, ask for and offer help, seek and offer forgiveness, encourage joy and celebration, express gratitude, speak directly to one another about concerns and issues, and support decisions in a shared voice. These are our aspirations and intentions which we pursue in good faith.
Yes, deciding to purchase a place where we can fill it to the brim with Unitarian Universalism was the right choice – a choice defined by a fun, rewarding, challenging process of possibilities being realized.