Saturday, May 1, 2010

Adventures in Unitarian Land: Part 1- Am I a UU?

No, I'm not talking about a place on the Candy-Land board, but a little adventure I partook during my first Sunday off in years. The day actually started off during an early 4-8am session in the recording studio. Early morning sessions are not productive without plenty of caffeine. So with all that caffeine buzzing in my blood stream I found myself unable to go to sleep when I got home at 8:30. So I thought it's Sunday morning why not attend church, but there are so many, which should I attend?

[In my head I imagined a room full of pastors with their hands in the air shouting "pick me, pick me!"]

I decided I would either attend a Baha'i meeting or meet with the Unitarians of Murfreesboro. The Unitarians met at 10 and the Baha'i at 11. Guess the Unitarians lucked out.

[I found this clever version of the chalice here.]

I was nervous and scared. I don't know why, it's not like they would kick me out for being overly accepting of other religious faiths. So to pass the time and calm my nerves I took a stroll through the Square in Murfreesboro. After a 15 minute stroll to calm the nerves and tame the curiosity I got tired of looking at Law Offices and barber shops (I swear there are 4 of each on the Square) and headed towards the Center for the Arts. The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the coffee being served.

Do I really need more caffeine, I asked myself. Yes, yes I do.

Not the smartest choice but if I couldn't calm the nerves maybe I could overload them and blow a circuit. The first thing I noticed was the art on the walls, and I was trying to figure out why the Unitarians would hang paintings on the wall, for reflection on the variety of art, perhaps? I felt foolish 30 minutes into the service when I realized that the Unitarians met at THE CENTER FOR THE ARTS. The service was directed by Bob and Jill (went up a hill to fetch a pail of unity...) who noticed my unshaven new face and were eager to welcome me. There were about 30 people in attendance, mostly young people in their late 20's early 30's including a few families. (I also noticed I was 1 of 2 in attendance who weren't white. This didn't really bother me as much as I thought it was a curiosity.) They began by welcoming everyone and describing what it means to be a Unitarian Universalists: UUs learn from multiple religious traditions, live with more questions than answers, are more spiritual than religious, and always seek out love.

Pause. Raises left eyebrow.
Am I a UU?
I asked myself. These beliefs are waaaaay too close to my own. My thinking almost slipped into egotistical paranoia thinking the program was tailored to my arrival, but only for a nanosecond until rationality shifted into gear: there are many people out there with similar beliefs to mine and the chances of them gathering to share in that unity is almost certain.

Then came the community meditation. Meditation? As the music coordinator played soothing synth music everyone retreated into themselves and connected. With what or whom was up to the individual yet you could feel the intensity of the individuals collectively embracing the All. Of course it all sounds New Age-y when you put it into words. Some things you can't, or I should say shouldn't be put into words. Hence the Chalice. I picked up literature in the foyer about the chalice before entering the meeting room describing the flaming chalice to symbolize everything from community and sharing to sacrifice and love. But what really lit the spark was the call and response during the lighting of the Chalice at the very start of the service.
For every time we make a mistake and we decide to start again:
We light this chalice.
For every time we are lonely and we let someone be our friend:
We light this chalice.
For every time we are disappointed and we choose to hope:
We light this chalice.
For every time we face hate and we choose love:
We light this chalice.
[Chalice Lighting by M. Maureen Killoran]
The guest speaker that day was the Reverend Sharon Weaver on "Dealing with the Unexpected" which was more of a self-help guide to anxiety than anything else. I was hoping for something with a bit more substance, but I found it intriguing nonetheless. What was REALLY interesting was the lack of reference to any religious language. The words prayer, Jesus, God, faith, belief, and the like were completely absent. In fact the whole service was completely devoid of any religious symbolism (except for their string of flags representing the various faiths hanging above the podium) that I began to wonder what these people got from being Unitarians. And then it hit me (kind of): these people congregate for the sheer pleasure of congregating, not out of obedience to God nor to purchase afterlife insurance. They meet every week because as humans we feel drawn to each other and to that which draws us together: love. I thoroughly enjoyed their non-traditional service except that I also need tension, drama, and controversy to stimulate spiritual growth. Although I've been seeking a sense of connection through community I fear the entrapment of echo chambers, constantly hearing and validating my own beliefs week after week. I'll be checking out the UU community in Chattanooga in the next few weeks, I just hope they have better chairs than the UUs in Murfreesboro.
Extremely late update! 
I completely forgot to link part 2 on this page for those perusing my archives. Here's the link.


Diane J Standiford said...

"...validating my own beliefs..." This is one of my big issues with any organized religion and that warm, fuzzy, feeling people gey from making friends at church. I hate yes-men. I get bored with that real fast. I don't need validation of my spiritual beliefs or my life philosophy. Been there, done that, I'm good. Nice to hear someone else say that though. When I hit a lot of opposite thoughts, it is a nice drink of water. But I don't need or want a gallon of water every week.

Unknown said...

Enough to quench the thirst without drowning.

captron52 said...

One again, another terrific post thank you and please keep up the good work! You are a light in this oft times darkened world and I for one appreciate the light yu are shining on all of us!

Doug B said...

I had to laugh: "purchase afterlife insurance." Enjoyed reading about your experience. I tend to the practical so I much prefer spirituality to religious dogma. And I thought Chalice Lighting ceremony was neat.

Don said...

Very interesting post. I've never been to a UU meeting and wondered what it was like.

Unknown said...

There was also a round table discussion with the speaker and a walking meditation (it was either or so I attended the discussion) after the service. It was actually really intriguing although I probably would have appreciated it more if I had a good night's rest before attending. More to come in part 2.

atimetorend said...

I commend you for seeking something other than an echo chamber, but how possible is it to do that and still find community? I find myself agreeing with you about the echo chamber, but also too much like a fish out of water right now, I crave those times when I can truly relax with people who think the way I do, without needing to start every phrase with a disclaimer or defend my right to have my own opinions and beliefs.

shantise said...

I have been visiting UUFM this summer. So far two times I have went. Thankfully there was some substance when I am. I was one of two non-white people when I visited. They were friendly and inviting. I visited First UU of Nashville and got a never nonspiritual vibe. Did you ever pick a UU congregation?

Unknown said...


No I never picked a UU congregation. Since then I moved back home to Chattanooga and only visited the local congregation once. I tend to lean towards the None category and my beliefs are broad and inclusive that I can't really pin myself to just one group. But if I did I'd probably be a UU. I failed to include part 2 so here's the link if you're interested. Thanks for commenting. I may pay the local congregation a visit soon.

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