I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Friday, July 30, 2004

My July Vacation II: The DNC

The Democratic National Convention just wrapped up not too far from where I live.  It was at the Convention in 1988 in Atlanta that I decided to become a minister.  I was working on the campaign of the Rev. Jesse Jackson for president.  History majors will recall that we lost that election to Michael Dukakis who then lost to, of all people, George Bush!

It is remarkable to me how things have changed.  When I was there in '88 there were religious people everywhere.  People were talking about their faith, how it transformed them, and how it motivated them to act in the world to fulfill God's plan.  Then (at least among those who volunteered for Jesse and even Mike), God's plan was clearly a liberal  one.  We answered a call that included a radical inclusiveness, a "rainbow coalition" if you will, and an economic revolution based on justice for all.

For the Christians on Jackson's staff, this wasn't something they were doing against their tradition.  Their politics were (and still are) based on the life and teachings of Jesus.  So it was strange to watch the convention this year and to miss that clear connection to faith of any kind.  Religion is something that we have given over to the conservatives and while many people tried to get it back (I am thinking, in particular of an interfaith service I attended at Old South Church featuring Bishop Shelby Spong and another the next day with James Forbes), it was clear that, as far as public perception, we were running uphill.

What can Liberal Christians, and liberals from other faith traditions do to enlarge our voice in the town square?  How do we get to be the ones perceived as following God's plan?  True, it is possible to be both theologically liberal and politically conservative.  But even then there is the expectation of discussion and tolerance that doesn't seem to exist in the dominant religious culture of not just the United States but the world.
Well, I wore my clerical collar to the convention.  This isn't always the case for ministers in either the UCC or the UUA.  However, I just wanted folks to know that there was at least one minister in Boston this week who wasn't on the podium, but was still proudly liberal.

Mountain Biking and Other Distractions

I have been remiss in blogging as of late, but I think I do have a somewhat legitimate excuse.  I have been mountain biking.

As you know, it is summer, and the church is doing work on the parsonage.  Therefore, my family and I have been spending a great deal of our time in the car and on the bike.  I have explored the power-lines of the great state of Maine and elsewhere waiting for replacement windows.  No doubt, I will spend more time peddling through the month of  August.  However, it is time well spent from the perspective of at least this Liberal Christian.

Mountain Biking gives me a chance to focus on two important elements (or "texts) of the religious (and I would say "Christian") life.  One of these is the Text of Nature, and the other is the Text of Human Nature.  I stole this concept from Quillen Shinn.  You can find out more about Quillen Shinn and other prominent Universalists by exploring the weblog empire of the Rev. Scott Wells.  I will link to him once I figure out how to do that!   

Shinn (and I) also include one other sacred source (this is one of the many places in life where I find a "trinity" useful). The final one is the Holy Bible.  However, it is hard to read while unintentionally flushing wild turkeys out of the bush and even harder while flying through the air toward God-Knows-What after avoiding said fowl.  Yet, one could make an argument that doing silly things on a bike requires prayer and all my favorites, at least, are in the Bible.

So, anyway, the text of Human Nature, is a broad category which for me includes, among other things, Politics, art, literature, individual relationships and the sacred texts of many faiths not my own.  All of these things help us to look into the wonderful creation that is the human race. They also point to our relationship with God.  On a mountain bike, the chapter or paragraph in this book that I focus on is Adam Tierney-Eliot.  As in many other forms of meditation, I must monitor my breathing, perceive my place in the world, and then forget these things as I focus on the bigger picture.

This bigger picture is, not surprisingly, creation itself.  It is the text of Nature.  I am not a very good biker, so I find myself often discovering the wonders of the landscape rather too late to do me any good, but hopefully, that is changing.  I am learning to feel the earth below my wheels and to learn from the wind in my ears.  When I am on my bicycle, I am balancing on the earth.  Finding balance is, ultimately, a spiritual and religious act.

So, there you have it, a theological excuse for poor blog attendance (a "christian apology," if you will).  I will attempt to do better for the rest of the summer as I travel about New England in search of enlightenment.

Friday, July 09, 2004

How Can You Be Christian?

This is a question that I am asked almost more than any other. After all, I am a Unitarian Universalist (UU) minister serving a church that is also UU. Those folks familiar with the association are usually aware that it is explicity non-Christian and, in some congregations actually quite hostile to the Christian faith. (In fact, I was once accused of bearing the "taint of Christianity" by a fellow UU at our annual General Assembly. As I wasn't feeling too Christian at the moment, I was left wondering how he figured it out!). The name Unitarian Universalist, obviously, implies at least some discomfort with the Holy Trinity and the other half (Universalism) conjures up a variety of images, most of them liberal and, sadly, often "fuzzy". (The word actually refers to the concept of Universal Restoration, but that is treated better elsewhere and at the very least would be another post).

It can be a tough spot to be a Christian, even a liberal one. However, the issue is further complicated for me and for the members of Eliot, because our congregation also belongs to the United Church of Christ (UCC). We are affiliated both with a relatively traditional Christian denomination and an untraditional, non-Christian one (albeit one with Christians in it).

"So...How can you be Christian?" The people who ask me this come from all walks of life and from all theological perspectives. Sometimes the question has little or nothing to do with our consciously ecumenical perspective. For example, I am sometimes asked this by more conservative types when they discover my support of gay marriage. This can happen regardless of how you choose to label yourself. Yet, the question also comes from within the two traditions and from the membership, itself.

I am not going to give you an answer right now. Unity (the weblog) is, in part, concerned with the broad implications of this question. What makes a Christian? Is it some kind of Christological orthodoxy (liberal or conservative? Is it participation in Christian community and its rituals? Do you have to belong to a Christian church? What is "Liberal Christianity"? It is also concerned with a broader question: What is our faith and how should we act it out in the world?

A part of being a member of the Eliot Church is to wrestle with the tension created by our multi-faceted identity. It is a subtext in every conversation and every sermon. It is what challenges us. It is what pushes us. It is what makes us grow. You are welcome to be a part of the conversation on all of its various paths and tangents. We are a growing church with a growing faith and I hope to be able to share it with you.

First Things

This is the first blog entry on Unity. It is almost the first one in my life! So, please be patient...