November 7, 2011

Church and God Talk

I went to church yesterday, and it was terribly thought-provoking. Yes, it's time for some religious rambling. Fasten your seatbelts, my friends.

The theme of the day was "Will Unitarian Universalism Make It?" It's a popular sermon topic, given that we're a teeny-tiny little slice of the population of religious folk and, like most denominations, losing members every year, especially younger members. My minister suggested that our problem is that we don't have a center; we all come from our different religious backgrounds with our different baggage and our spiritual/secular mentality, and we're hesitant to find something - ritual, or some theological concepts - to agree on and organize ourselves around. He suggested that a way to fix this problem might be getting over our aversion to God-talk, which is to say, mentioning the divine at all.

I have to admit, I have a problem with God-talk. Part of it's personal - what I'm looking for when I say I'm "seeking God" is different from what I'm looking for when I'm looking for some vaguely-named holy or divine. Part of it is a bit more political - I feel like when we take the divine, the awesome, the supernatural from any and all traditions and stick the name "God" on it, we're erasing important distinctions in how people experience religion. I might say "God" and be thinking of the expression "God is love," but that won't necessarily describe the experience of someone from another tradition, and I think that difference is worth talking about.

I want to talk about truth and meaning at church, but I want to use words other than God to describe the things that are too big and confusing to get our heads around right away. That probably makes it harder, because then we have to agree on terms first, but I think it would make for a really helpful conversation.

Rev. Ford, a minister/blogger who I respect a lot, gave his sermon this week on how to talk about spirituality-things, too, but his focus was on souls and how to understand them without assuming that it's something eternal that's going to zip up to heaven when you die. It's good stuff - a bit of psychology, a bit philosophy, a bit of thinking about day dreams and regular dreams and what those things mean. And he talks about the "center," the same way my minister did.

I wish that when we talked about how our church deals with truth and meaning, we sometimes looked for words other than "God," just to see where it took us. Maybe we'd end up coming back to God-talk, but it'd be a lot more full, I think.

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