By Connie Goodbread, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life Staff
I call that church free which enters into the covenant with the ultimate source of existence. It binds together families and generations, protecting against the idolatry of any human claim to absolute truth or authority.
- James Luther Adams
For a long time we thought that we should focus on how Unitarian Universalism was like other religions, what all religions had in common. When we taught about our faith we looked for the likenesses we shared with other faith traditions. For a long time people who came into Unitarian Universalism defined themselves by what they were not. I am not a Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness, or Baptist, or I am a recovering Catholic, etc. For a long time we have been unable to teach Unitarian Universalism. We suffered from the Buddhist idea that if you name something as big as God you diminish it. So how could we say what Unitarian Universalism is without diminishing it? And yet, how can we have deep discussions about our faith with one another, let alone with people of other faiths, if we cannot talk about what Unitarian Universalism is?
That is the struggle isn’t it? What is Unitarian Universalism? What is the truth, the wisdom and transcendent value at the center? What makes it different? What makes it great? What makes it important? What makes it worth your dedication? What makes it worth sharing? What is in Unitarian Universalism that we hang onto in times of joy and times of sorrow?
Ours is a living tradition. As a living tradition we are asked over and over again to reexaime our path, our faith, the truth, our assumptions and our work. Do we love deeply enough? Are we not merely tolerant but accepting? Is our service to others or for our own glory? Who cannot hear us because of the way we speak? What is the next challenge, mine, yours, ours? Are we supportive and not enabling? Are we kind, trusting, forgiving, humble? I know that can be exhausting because there is so much change. I know there are times when we are tempted to look for what is sure, what is solid and never changing. But - life is change, how it differs from the rocks. - Jefferson Airplane. Because ours is a living tradition we must hit the refresh button often.
Ours is a pluralistic faith. We do not believe there is only one way or one path to truth and goodness. Rather all paths that lead to a loving heart are good paths. There is no fundamentalism in Unitarian Universalism. There is not one right way. We covenant to walk in the ways of love. We covenant to uphold our values and support one another in the struggle. We covenant to build the world we dream about. We covenant to accept different ideas and theologies and to allow room for doubt.
In our living tradition there is no orthodoxy. Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal not a creedal faith. Therefore, there is no demand for people to adhere to one way of relating to the holy, the divine, or the wonder of creation. Unitarian Universalism does not insist that to be a part of the faith all must be bound together by belief. Rather we are bound by our deep and abiding promise to support one another and care for the world. We are bound by love to serve.
Unitarian Universalism is a faith that teaches that revelation is open and ongoing We do not believe that revelation is sealed. We believe that each of us has a relationship with the divine and anyone can be touched by divine thought and inspiration. We believe that all are worthy and all are saved. We believe that life is sacred - all life. We are not waiting to be saved. We think that what we have here and now is important and that how we live together on this lovely little planet matters. Everything is holy.
These four pillars of Unitarian Universalism (living, pluralistic, covenantal faith - that teaches revelation as open and continuous) speak to the difference between our faith tradition and some others. While we have much in common with what is at the heart of all great religions (love), we differ with each on at least one of these Unitarian Universalist ways of manifesting love in the here and now. Our good news of hope and love is worth sharing. Our way of living out that hope and love is also worth sharing. It needs to be given away with open and generous hearts.