Friday, October 05, 2007

Is Church Keeping You From God? That's the question

So the UUA's kickoff campaign in Time magazine asks the question: Is God keeping you from church? What a question for boomers and older; or, more accurately, what a question for people already in UU churches. The question being addressed to a wider culture of folks, being addressed by the emergent organic church movement, is the opposite: Is Church Keeping You From God? But then, that's what many UU churches do, keep people from God, and the new campaign says let's de-emphasize God and raise up Church; that's also the focus of the new DVD campaign though the word God is used, in such a wonderfully cozy inviting way, the "benign grandfather.mother image" as Carl Scovel once described Channing's God. People who think the word or idea of God is keeping them from church should already be attracted to UUism; it's where we have been for forty plus years. We keep looking to grow by appealing to people who "should" be a part of us, we think; if we could just get out the right message to them in the right way; give them credit; they will find us; our churches are full of them now. In the meantime, people who like God, like Jesus, can't imagine church without them, but who are stumbled by the concept and word and practices and stereotypes of church itself, these people are growing in number all the time, especially among milennials. But to go after their concerns might really be misleading, I guess, for then we would be attracting them to a place where God and Jesus et al are absent in transforming meaningful ways, dare I say it, challenging ways. Of course the idea of trying to incarnate new communities for them, rather than attracting them to existing churches not for them, that's something beyond us. End.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Voices of a Liberal Faith: "Sigh" and Mixed Feelings

Just a quick review of the UUA's new DVD and campaign to attract visitors:
Of course no surprise I would love to see the time, talent, resources, etc. put into incarnational mission church planting, or a diverse 1000 new churches in a 1000 new ways approach like the Disciples of Christ are doing, that could be used from this DVD approach and from the Time Magazine and other outreach ads that reflect the old "attrractional" mode of church, but that's not going to happen, so heck I am glad to see that this is being done.

Now I like the visuals, get a good vibe from it, hits the niche markets they are aiming for, has a little bit of substance along with the style, and you come away with a good warm fuzzy glow buzz of spirituality and community and other wonderful words. Nothing scary in it. It seems to evoke everything you would think of from "liberalism." Acceptance. Activism. Idealism.

What I am not drawn to: see paragraph above :).

There were a few places where the word "challenge" was dropped and I was wanting to get a little more of that. I wonder what the challenges of our liberal faith really are: to be accepting of the diversity? well yeah, it can be a strain at times but hey not much I mean that's who we are, right? Challenge to be activists and make the world a better place? Well, yeah, but same thing. Where is the real challenge of our faith? The challenge that says we will be part of the shaking of your foundations. There was so much "it's so good for you, for me, come in the water is fine." Here you won't have to change. Here you won't encounter a transforming Transcendent that stands not only within you but without from you, judging your life, your decisions. I am always a sucker for history, but there was a part of me that said, when I saw his name and face, if John Adams were here and watching that video....:)

It does what it sets out to do. That's something. I do hope people will use it in small groups; to dig into it, not only in how it might resonate with their path, but what it leaves out in what it means to be faithful, to be a part of even "Church, but..." :). What does it say about us? What does it reveal about us?

Of course, getting visitors is one thing and turning visitors into disciples and leaders who make other leaders is another thing. One DVD can't do it all. But there might be a corollary between the expectations that people come in with, that here I won't be challenged and changed, that makes it difficult to go from the one to the other. God I yearn for the DVD of the dark nights of the souls of the UUs and how from the wreckage of their lives and in the wreckage of their faith communities and wider communities they experienced the Holy and their lives have never been the same since. Or how the faith has really challenged them to change their lives in fundamental ways. That I think might really attract visitors and also some hope that might keep them.

Or we can start new organic churches of four and five people all over the world, especially in the zip codes we aren't a part of naturally, and watch the Holy Spirit at work.

So, in conclusion, really mixed feelings. Which is better than you thought, right? I mean if an out of the looper like me can see where it might be useful (mostly if it will be used in small groups, in moving people to dig deeper and go beneath the surfaces presented, which is all you can do anyway in ten minutes, but then surfaces are telling) than surely it will end up helping the movement somehow.

Let's just keep looking at the numbers each year in relationship to the population of the country. And it wouldn't hurt to 1. restart a fellowship movement redux; 2. to do the first, have at least one church in each state commit to doing an organic church mission plant per year; 3. have a system wide discussion so people will know what the heck that might mean and be, and what the real options for growth and planting are (it is both easier than people think, and more challenging than they can imagine and possibly wish to go there). End.

Liberal Theology by Peter C. Hodgson

One of my favorite contemporary theologians, if not the favorite, is Peter C. Hodgson recent of Vanderbilt. He has another new book out, a slim one, geared in most part to general audiences I think without dumbing things down. It is called simply enough Liberal Theology: A Radical Vision. At the heart of his theology is freedom. Here he focuses his constructive theology down to freedom manifest in God, in the universe, and in humanity's struggle for liberation. He should be read by all UUs looking for a unifying vision for our theology--God works in freedom; part of that freedom comes in story form in different ways, for me the story of Jesus for others the story of evolution/science, others the story of Buddha, but it is the committment and challenge of freedom that creates the boundaries of our family, our tradition, our current covenant. So we need to understand the theology of freedom, how it works, what it isn't. Hodgson is so helpful here.

I did my own constructive theological paper in relationship to his and so I am biased, but also chagrined that so few UUs, so few liberal Christians, know of his contribution through the years. I will do some excerpting from it later, just wanted to issue an alert about the book. Especially if you liked Gary Dorrien's trilogy (see my earlier posts on it from 2006) and his historical comments and opinions on liberal theology, you will enjoy see them applied by Hodgson. If there is a caution, it is that Hodgson has an unapologetic philosophical theology, and owes much to Hegel. This can be daunting, but try him anyway; I think his arguements are getting better. Since so much of this blog is aimed at incarnating in new communities new theology, or old theology newly reframed, it is good to pause every so often and reflect on such new theological work, and understand its imperative for our getting new communities planted.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Why Other Christians Need To Listen To UU Christians

I have been thinking about this post for some time, but then yesterday the new Christian Century came,, and there was an article that I am sure will be posted on the website there soon about what mainline Protestant Christians can learn from Mormons. Inspired me to get to this post. Actually, UUs can learn from the article and from Mormons too (especially about high expectations and youth and young adult culture, and family emphasis) and some of it I have blogged on in the past. Here are some beginning thoughts about what others can learn from us.

Most of this blog has been composed with the idea that liberals need to engage in and learn from evangelicals, especially those emerging organic Christian communities turning their backs on the mega-church. Now I'd like to reverse it. In my encounters with them, there is 1. ignorance about UUism and UU Christianity; like the main error of all inter-religious dialogue it is often based on old information; 2. certainly ignorance about our rich and diverse UU Christianity too; 3. no understanding that the folks who have been coming and still are coming into the communities of UUism are the very ones they too have been professing to seek to reach, the dechurched, the disaffected, the spiritual but not religious types, the deeds but not creeds type; the ones so desperate for connection and spirituality that they will try on all manner of spiritual hats, neopagan, wiccan, scientific, et al; except for some crucial socio-demographic skewing you will find a reflection of contemporary American spirituality; 4. so, whom best to listen to to understand what it means to be in relationship with the spectrum, to hear their baggage or stories from church or from secularism, and their objections to all things Christian even while they know there is something special, but not too special, about Jesus. 5. I don't mean that what they will learn from UU Christians is all wonderful; they might learn some helpful lessons about balancing apologetic and unapologetic theology, for example, where Christians have gone from one pendulum swing to the other in being forthright or hidden about the scandal of particularity of the Christian story. 6: they might learn about the growing power of ritual and liturgy that is providing a doorway to faith, and especially about the power of living in and embracing diversity along sexual orientation lines.

I will try to revisit this again later. Of course, for anyone seeking to experience UU Christianity, the best way is to be with us. Go to for a great way to do so. Feel free to add your thoughts on what others can learn, and deepen their faith, from being around UU Christians.