Theologically we ask: “Who are we?” and “Why are we?” I answer we are of worth and value, composed of our relationships and our actions. We are here because we have a responsibility to be in right relationship with all beings, and nature, because what we do matters.
Two paragraphs of Rev. David Bumbaugh's statement of UU faith make the connection between historic and current Unitarian Universalist theologies and my call to ministry:
"We believe that the moral impulse that weaves its way through our lives, luring us to practices of justice and mercy and compassion, is threaded through the universe itself and it is this universal longing that finds outlet in our best moments.”
“We believe that our location within the community of living things places upon us inescapable responsibilities. Life is more than our understanding of it, [...] we [must] act out of conscious concern for the broadest vision of community we can command and that we seek not our welfare alone, but the welfare of the whole. We are commanded to serve life and serve it to the seven times seventieth generation."
I make sense of traditional theological categories from my UU perspective, as follows:
- Anthropology: (What are humans?) Unitarian Universalists turn to the first principle: Inherent worth and dignity of all human beings. This language is directly from Humanist teachings. I would also bring in the seventh principle as sourced from Feminist Theology: We are made of our relationships. Our knowledge, skills, and attitudes are created by our experiences.
- Theology: (What is God?) For UUs, many of whom are uncomfortable with the term God, or are agnostic or atheistic, this can also be expressed as the nature of divinity or an understanding of what is sacred. I experience the sacred in the sunset, in the moments when many voices are singing together, and when witnessing to someone who is grieving. Something beyond me is expressed in beauty or truth.
- Pneumatology: Pneumatology traditionally is the third of the three parts of God (father, son, holy ghost) but for UUs can often be conflated with theology. This is workable for religious naturalists, process theologians, mystic Christians, neo-Pagans, pan- or panen-theists, and many Humanist Unitarian Universalists. The Holy Ghost is experienced as the still small voice within, or awareness of the sacred.
- Christology: The gift of Jesus as Christ for me is that every human, like Jesus, is the Christ... Is a part of "god-stuff." It is liberating to say that Jesus is fully human. Jesus is human and as such serves as an exemplar but not a redeemer. We can understand Christology to be what we turn to as teacher and comforter. My teachers include my family, UU mentors, chance encounters, books, songs, and living. Another way of understanding Christology us that the 'body of christ' is EVERYONE (or even, EVERYTHING!)
- Soteriology: (sin and salvation) For UUs sin is often understood as the systems of oppression. Salvation has to do with a personal effort to live into your best self and to create conditions for well being for others. Our failures to do so must be forgiven and we must begin again, unfettered by regrets. Sin can be defined as 'missing the mark' which begs the question: what is the mark? The mark is living into our most authentic, integrated, and loving selves as best we know how.
- Ecclesiology: (What is "church" and how do we 'do church') UUs share our doctrine with the Baptists and Congregationalists whose religious communities rest on covenant. Instead of a creed we have an agreement, a promise, about how we will be together. This is the great and glorious experiment of Unitarian Universalism: Learning to live well together, without requiring that we think alike.
- Missiology: This is best expressed as how we relate to our neighbors, especially neighboring faiths. We live our commitment to tolerance. Unitarian Universalism is also a faith with a mission. We have good news to share.
- Eschatology: What is our story, what is the moral of our story, and how does our story end? For UUs in the modern age the story has unequivocally been one of progress. We are undergoing transformation now in response to post-modern (and other) critiques. The most common re-frame has been that paradise already exists in some form. Our story is one about uncovering it or opening our eyes to it. In any case, the destiny of humankind is here on earth. There is no expectation of a “rapture” or a finale that goes beyond the universe as we understand it.
- Our sacred sources are the texts of nature, of experience, and of the living and thinking of great cultures, and great men and women. As Shakespeare pointed out in “As You Like It” there are "... tongues in trees and books in the running brooks and sermons in stone." Or as Emerson urged in the divinity school address: “life passed through the fire of thought” is our text. My primary sacred texts are our Unitarian Universalist hymnbooks, the songs of the pagan traditions, labor movement, women’s community, and folk scene, and the writings and poetry of mystics from around the world.
Theologians (Such as Sally McFague, Starhawk, and William Murray) in the Feminist, Pagan, and Religious Naturalist traditions reinforce my core theology: We are connected, we are lovable and loved, we have a responsibility to one another and to the world of which we are a part.
Sometimes my yearning to "be of use" is overwhelming and I need to remember that following my call does not mean that I should be seeking right relationship with everyone and everything except myself. I, too, matter. I must remember that what I have to contribute to the world is in bite-sized pieces: one act at a time, one person at a time. When that does not feel like enough, I remember my other mantra: I do not have to do this alone.
I am living out my call when someone comes to me, after my turn in the pulpit, to tell me that he finally has forgiven his father. I am living out my call when a young man hands over his knife to me, and makes an appointment to see a therapist, instead of killing himself. I am living out my call when someone starts to attend my UU congregation because I have stood on the side of love for transgender people. I am living out my call when I have made a respectful, caring, connection with someone whose ideals are completely different from mine. I also must trust that my being me and living fully into my servant self has an effect, even if it is just that I know I am doing the right thing. I must follow my call because it is the only way to fully live.
I ask: “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” I answer that I am of worth and value, composed of my practices of justice and mercy and compassion. I am here to fulfill my call to serve life.