Best of UU

“It’s not God’s job to make the world a better place. It’s yours.”

Filed under: Reflections — Jess at 11:32 am on Thursday, July 31, 2008

This piece was written by Sara Robinson, a journalist and Unitarian Universalist, in response to the events in Knoxville, Tennessee this week.

You can still donate here, and attend a vigil in your area if you feel so moved.

Of Madmen and Martyrs

by Sara Robinson

We are an odd group, we Unitarians.

Conventional wisdom says that we’re soft in all the places our society values toughness. Our refusal to adhere to any dogma must mean that we’re soft in our convictions. Our reflexive open-mindedness is often derided as evidence that we’re soft in the head. Our persistent and gentle insistence on liberal values is evidence of hearts too soft to set boundaries. And all of this together leads to a public image of a mushy gathering of feckless intellectuals that somehow lacks cohesion, backbone, focus, or purpose.

You can only believe this if you don’t know either the history or the modern reality of Unitarian Universalism. The faith’s early founders, Michael Servitus and Francis David, were executed for the radical notion that belief in the Trinity — which excluded Muslims and Jews — should not be a requirement for participation in 16th century public life. Four hundred years later, in the same part of the world, other Unitarians died in concentration camps for having the courage of their humanist convictions. Viola Liuzzo, a 39-year-old mother from Michigan who was killed by the Klan in the days following the Selma march in 1965, was one of ours, too.

(Read on … )

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“each of us can rise above. . .”

Filed under: Reflections — Jess at 12:17 pm on Thursday, May 8, 2008

The struggle between individualism and communalism is a common one in many religions, but Unitarian Universalism has a unique position, being without a central creed for the community to fall back upon in times of disagreement. However, we are able to find common ground in our values, our ideals, and our belief that Unitarian Universalism has a saving message that the world needs to hear.

In this short excerpt from his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama articulates the tension that exists between balancing these two ideals, the good of the individual and the good of the community, on a national and cultural level. I find that his words aptly describe the challenges in our church communities as well, particularly churches that are going through times of transition and change.

Senator Obama is not a Unitarian Universalist; he belongs to our sister-denomination, the United Church of Christ, whose core ideals are very much in line with our own.

from The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

by Senator Barack Obama

At its most elemental level, we understand our liberty in a negative sense. As a general rule we believe in the right to be left alone, and are suspicious of those–whether Big Brother or nosy neighbors–who want to meddle in our business. But we understand our liberty in a more positive sense as well, in the idea of opportunity and the subsidiary values that help realize opportunity–all those homespun virtues that Benjamin Franklin first popularized in Poor Richard’s Alamanack and that have continued to inspire our allegiance through successive generations. The values of self-reliance and self-improvement and risk-taking. The values of drive, discipline, temperance, and hard work. The values of thrift and personal responsibility.

These values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will–a confidence that through pluck and sweat and smarts, each of us can rise above the circumstances of our birth. But these values also express a broader confidence that so long as individual men and women are free to pursue their own interests, society as a whole will prosper. Our system of self-government and our free-market economy depend on the majority of individual Americans adhering to these values. The legitimacy of our government and our economy depend on the degree to which these values are rewarded, which is why the values of equal opportunity and nondiscrimination complement rather than impinge on our liberty.

If we Americans are individualistic at heart, if we instinctively chafe against a past of tribal allegiances, traditions, customs, and castes, it would be a mistake to assume that this is all we are. Our individualism has always been bound by a set of communal values, the glue upon which every healthy society depends. We value the imperatives of family and the cross-generational obligations that family implies. We value community, the neighborliness that expresses itself through raising the barn or coaching the soccer team. We value patriotism and the obligations of citizenship, a sense of duty and sacrifice on behalf of our nation. We value a faith in something bigger than ourselves, whether that something expresses itself in formal religion or ethical precepts. And we value the constellation of behaviors that express our mutual regard for one another: honesty, fairness, humility, kindness, courtesy, and compassion.

Source: from Chapter 2 of The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama.

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“what is that glue that holds us. . .?”

Filed under: Sermons — Jess at 11:50 am on Friday, November 30, 2007

Why do we gather in religious community? What is religious community? How do we tie our diverse religious beliefs and yearnings together into one community?

The Rev. James Covington, serving the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Briarton, Croton and Ossining, New York, takes a stab at answering some of these concerns in a sermon delivered last January.

For consideration: What binds you to your religious community? What values do you have in common with those who hold different beliefs than you?

What it Means to Be Religious

by Rev. James Covington

What does it mean to be religious? My, what a question! I wonder what your answer would be. I am certain we would have as many different answers as there are people sitting in front of me. It is a question always on my mind—not urgently so, but at least, somewhere peripheral. It has been on my mind more so recently. I wonder why. Well, we live in a time when the world about us is so rife with political and religious conflict, one cannot help but despair of it all. Sam Harris’s book, The End of Faith, certainly has been an evocative reading. And as an association, Unitarian Universalists are presently, it seems, attempting to address the question amongst ourselves—if we are a “liberal” religious movement, then what do we mean by that? What do we mean by “religious?”

(Read on … )

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