Saturday, May 29, 2010

Canyon of Faith: Part 1- We're All the Same

During my recent visits back to church I've been pondering the canyon which separates the faith I once had and the faith I have now. What really separates the me from 5 years ago from the me of today (other than 2 kids, a new house, and a degree)? Is it really as simple as belief in Jesus Christ or something more? How do views of ourselves and of others affect our interconnectedness with our fellow man? As always I'm not out to bash Christianity but to wrestle with the unasked questions themselves, and in wrestling I might find some enlightenment even though the question may defeat me.

When I hear pastors preach about the Christian life I'm always surprised how me-centered it all sounds more so than other-centered. It's all about my salvation, my soul, my personal relationship with Jesus. That's not to say that Christianity excludes other-centered language but for many believers it takes a backseat. Of course, this me-centered language is extremely helpful when witnessing to lost souls. All people yearn for love and acceptance, but I get a since that mainstream Christians believe that their love will be wrenched away from them the second they question their own beliefs. Their love from their in-group, their tribe, may be conditional but it doesn't have to be. Yet the conditions for acceptance into the group by default leaves others out while elevating the saved to a higher lofty position. Last week the pastor at the church I've been attending (I hesitate to say My pastor at My church) stated that "we're still sinners, but we are saved." I would imagine this would be very convincing language to the unsaved in the crowd, other than myself of course.

Yet, my question to the pastor, whenever I get the courage to ask, would be if we're all the same then why create an in group at all? If the divide between saved and unsaved is acceptance of life (illustrated and symbolized by the sacrificial Christ) how does this create an in group since I can't imagine anyone choosing death? We all choose life by living, we just don't choose to follow archaic tribal belief systems. This doesn't mean that the modern man of science who may want to do away with religion has done away with what religion points towards. Life is sacred, not the icons which represent life. The creative spirit of Man is sacred, not the myth which attempts to explain that creativity. We are sacred, not a select in-group or tribe, but even using the word sacred bears a sense of setting apart. I'm not trying to set anything apart but I'm trapped by language (and by my limited vocabulary) and experience. I can only experience separateness so I speak using words which define separateness. I would like to say we're all the same, we're all one, but language makes the phrase problematic. How can WE be the same, how can WE be one when we don't experience oneness? Yet this is how I would like to approach my fellow man: if I consider the stranger so deeply interconnected to myself that I begin to lose track of where they end and I begin how can I not be compassionate towards them?

But saying we're all one is not the same as saying we're all the same. The unity found in Pantheism/Panentheism (which I sympathize with but have not entirely embraced) is different from the unity most Christians would be comfortable with using their language and their set of symbols. Their goal is not to destroy the ego (if it were even possible) but to save the ego. We all start in the same place, within ourselves; we travel in the same manner by connecting with one another; and we have the same goal in mind yet we call it by different names. I believe that by saying we're saved (past tense) comes across to the outsider, the unsaved, as exclusive and demeaning to their spirituality. Being saved also sounds so final, as if we've reached a spiritual plateau while leaving the unsaved below (in the valley of death). I know the average Christian would seek to correct my understanding of the Christian faith (which I was a part of for the majority of my life) but this is how it may come across to non-Christians. We may be trapped by language but that doesn't justify forgetting our shared humanity. In my opinion, this is what happens when we enter into an IN group, we're so focused on ourselves that we forget that we're all the same. We forget we all share the same origin, we all experience suffering, and we're all in it together. We forget that we're part of the whole and the whole is a part of us.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Couple Random Thoughts

First I have to say that I finally got around to watching the Lost series finale last night and absolutely loved it. It all clicked for me when Ben refused to go inside the church near the end, I immediately thought of The Last Battle of the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. If you're confused by the ending reread the last chapter of the Last Battle or read these articles which explain it much better than I ever could. I'm slowly going through my Google Reader and reading finale explanations by other bloggers. I'll post links to my favorites here soon I'm waiting for a few more bloggers and vloggers to post their thoughts (including Andrew Hackman's thoughts over at Hackman's Musings).

I'd also like to mention for those interested I've added a neat little button off to the right a couple months ago which I find amusing to use. The random post generator, the orange button with the two arrows, generates a random post from my archives. I encourage you to try it out and see if you find something interesting to read until my next post.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Bible as Blasphemy

A thought came to me as I was reading today's post, How Religious Faith Works, over at Faithful Progressive as I came across the following lines:
But as Chris Hedges, reminds us, the very word Bible means "the books" or the little books. Certainly its various authors did not ever intend for these individual books to all be brought together as the final source of insight into God.

I've quoted Gothold Lessing here many times: if you believe in God there was a God before these individual books were written, and there would still be a God if all of the Holy Books were removed from the face of the earth.
Sticking to the Christian tradition of divine inspiration, would that divine inspiration branch into the collection and canonization of the books into a single text? I've only read brief histories of the canonization of the Bible so I'm curious if the canonization process of the individually inspired texts was ever considered heretical or even blasphemy? I can understand (although I don't accept) the individual books being guided by a divine hand but how can the canonization process, overseen by men dependent on human reasoning and influenced by politics, be considered divine inspiration? Would not the exclusion of other writings by definition be limiting the understanding of the divine? Would not the canonization of the Bible be considered blaspheming the spirit(Mark 3:29;Matthew 12:31-32; Luke 12:10?

It's Our Duty

19Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;

20Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

James 5:19-20 (KJV)

Sunday was the last sermon in a series called Showcase Christianity at the church I've been visiting. James 5:19-20 was the verse of the day and from the look of it I'm sure you know the subject of today's post. Read James 5 a bit closer and you come to find out (like the rest of the Bible) that the James writer was talking about a specific IN group. The concerns and the identity of the community begins and end with them. Yes, I'm aware the Bible does speak of helping the poor and reaching out to save the world but this is done on top of a soap box. The pastor kept returning to the verse of the series to support his point.

18Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. James 2:18

True Christians can reveal their faith through their works. The good tree bears good fruit whereas a bad tree bears bad fruit. And throughout the sermon one (blasphemous) question kept rattling in my head: can someone who's not IN (i.e. non-Christian) bear good fruits? The text book answer would be that only those who've been saved and have chosen to begin their walk with God are able to produce truly good fruits. But what does that mean? What does walking with God mean, and for that matter what does it mean to be saved? I was raised in the church and I know the appropriate responses but I don't think Christians take the time to examine their spirituality closely. But that's a post for another day, back to today's topic.

Can a non-Christian bear good fruits? I ask this for two reasons: non-Christians get written off as unrepentant sinners and, in the eyes of this church, I fall into the non-Christian category. The reality is that most people seek out redemption and wrestle with the temptations of the human experience especially those in other faiths! My point being that the theology of being saved is just that, theology. It is the pacifier, the security blanket of Christians which may temporarily calm their self-constructed fears but doesn't buy them peace of mind. The message of last Sunday's sermon was on Christians reaching out to people and encouraging them to walk with God. Yet this assumes that non-Christians actively choose not to walk with God based on their tribal identity. I believe my interaction and connection with my fellow man is my walk with God, and I believe keeping a sense of superiority and arrogance found in the In vs. Out groups is counterproductive to my relationship with my fellow man. I'm not saying the unsaved man is sinless, I'm saying the difference between the saved and the unsaved is theology not morality. We each choose how moral we want to be regardless of our beliefs. It's our duty to be supportive of our fellow man in their time of need not convert them. Yes, we should be our brother's keeper by showing them the error of his ways if they are hurtful to mankind but this does not wash away the actions of the past. We must not forget the sins of the past if we seek to redeem ourselves. It is our duty to love and embrace not condemn and divide.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Hey, Hey We're the Monkeys

I read a confusing article on the RNS blog about a tea party leader, Mark Williams denouncing the construction of a mosque near the world trade center site and calling Allah the 'Monkey God'.

Monkey God? Did I miss something here? Here's a quote from his blog (which is password protected for some reason) taken from TPMMuckraker,
The animals of allah for whom any day is a great day for a massacre are drooling over the positive response that they are getting from New York City officials over a proposal to build a 13 story monument to the 9/11 Muslims who hijacked those 4 airliners.

The monument would consist of a Mosque for the worship of the terrorists' monkey-god and a "cultural center" to propagandize for the extermination of all things not approved by their cult.

[Image of Hanuman taken from Passport of the Soul.]

Now to clarify, some within the Tea Party Express have come distanced themselves from Mark's comments calling it hate speech. But why monkey god? Why do some people feel the need to dehumanize the enemy? Does hate speech really help to disarm their opponents? Does dehumanizing the enemy help to justify the hatred? I'm assuming that Mark and his friends rationalize that they can love their fellow man as long as their human. For example Mark has apologized to Hindus for his remark (but not to Muslims) who actually worship a Monkey god, Hanuman, as a symbol of perseverance, strength and devotion. He goes on to say,

"Those are hardly the traits of whatever the Hell (literally) it is that terrorists worship and worthy of my respect and admiration not ridicule."

What surprised me is that he probably took the time to Google "monkey god" and apologized to Hindus but didn't have the effort to Google "Allah" to find the similarities between Allah and the OT God of the Bible. I'm not defending terrorists only highlighting the dangers of throwing all practitioners of a faith into the frying pan for the actions of a few extremists. The very same can be done with Christianity by saying all Christians are white supremacists by looking to the KKK as the defining example of Christians. Of course Christians would be outraged and quick to argue that hate groups aren't "Christian" as much as Muslims would (or at least should) be outraged in being defined by the actions of the extremists in their faith. But hey, why bother apologizing to a monkey, right?

Monday, May 17, 2010

It's Our Choice

Yesterday was my second visit to my mother's church and both her and my wife want us to go on a regular basis. Which I don't mind going since it gets me out of the house and the kids enjoy Sunday School. The only issue is that I personally get nothing out of it, yet there were many others who got IT. And I mean really got IT. They were raising their hands in praise shouting 'hallelujah' left and right, they got IT whatever IT may be. So far no one is aware of my unsaved soul, and I have the feeling that when it becomes known I'll have a flood of people trying to convert me. There have been many people who've attempted to bring me back into the fold and I've always been intrigued by the variety of different methodologies. Eventually some will get confused by my presence and lack of belief and shun me altogether. Which is fine, I've shaken a lot of hands in these past two visits but I've only remembered two names, it's not like I've made any friends dear to me. As I sat there I thought of what others would think to be the reason for my refusal of conversion, which leads me to the heart of the sermon: choice.

The Pastor is a vibrant and comical speaker and even though I don't agree with his beliefs I always seem to walk away with something to think about on the way home (although the thought inspired lead me in a direction he did not intend). Yesterday's sermon was on James chapter 4 and the struggle Christians face in a tempting world. We have a life-or-death choice ahead of us: God or the world. For those who've chosen to be with God must not only proclaim it from their lips but have their faith reflected in their actions. If we believe in God and life we must actively choose it and "as we draw closer to God, God draws closer to us." It's all about choice, yet the line drawn in the sand is too black and white as the Linedrawer (which they would say is God who somehow shares the same theology as they do) decides what is black and what is white. My question would be why would anyone not accept life? Is there anyone who would willingly accept death and eternal damnation? The Christian reply would be anyone who willingly does not accept Christ into their heart chooses death. How is that a choice? Any choice between two outcomes one being painful or fatal is not a choice at all! The obvious choice is the one devoid of any pain and suffering which makes this a loaded gun choice: choose my way or die.

As a very liberal Christian (if that) I don't believe in heaven or hell, nor do I believe that those following other faiths are wrong by default. They don't seek out death because they've made the wrong decision by believing in something other than Christ, they seek out life differently from Christians. The point being that we all seek life including atheist, secularist, humanist and other non-religious 'isms' and identities who've been scorned by some in the religious communities. If God is equivalent to life (and I would also say love) then who would not be drawn to it? Mankind with its curious nature is drawn to the world around it and seeks to actively discover, understand, and intimately know it. The major difference between what Christians are drawn to and everyone else lies in the label and definition of God. If we let go of our labels, and our identities, we will come to rediscover our shared humanity and our shared passion: to know one another.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Few Words...

I just like to formally welcome my new readers who've joined in the last few weeks, I look forward to holding many enlightening conversations with you all. Any comments or questions can be submitted privately to me through the light blue contact me box on the right hand sidebar.

I had an idea which I'd like to float out to anyone who may be interested. I've recently been dabbling with video chat (I use Gmail chat) and would like to know if anyone would like to hold conversations face to face. I would like to put a face to some of the people who comment and read regularly and would be interested to hear your life story, beliefs, and whatever else you may want to talk about. If you are interested leave a comment with your email in the blue comment box in the right hand side bar and we'll see what we can work out. Thank you all for your continued support and comments I've thoroughly enjoyed having with you guys. For those on Facebook, you can find me here.

Thanks again and Namaste.

God Didn't Say It, I Won't Believe It

While attending my mother's church for Mother's Day the pastor made an interesting comment which I kept playing back in my head. "If God didn't say it, I won't believe it." This phrase reveals two things about these believers and their view of God: they only follow Divine revelation, and that Divine revelation is limited to one book, The Bible. There is no need for any more revelation because everything we need to know about life and the cosmos is contained within the Bible. On a spiritual level I would find this intriguing if they approached the Bible as some Jews approach the Torah using Pardes, a form of exegesis to unraveling the Divine Revelation contained within the text. Pardes is an acronym for
  • Peshat (פְּשָׁט) — "plain" ("simple") or the direct meaning.
  • Remez (רֶמֶז) — "hints" or the deep (allegoric: hidden or symbolic) meaning beyond just the literal sense.
  • Derash (דְּרַשׁ) — from Hebrew darash: "inquire" ("seek") — the comparative (midrashic) meaning, as given through similar occurrences.
  • Sod (סוֹד) (pronounced with a long O as in 'morning') — "secret" ("mystery") or the mystical meaning, as given through inspiration or revelation. (Wikipedia)
Each line in the text can not only contain multiple meanings but if I remember correctly Jewish lore states that at Mount Sinai each of the 600,000 men of fighting age were given a different interpretation of the Torah. That adds up to a staggering amount of different interpretations to the hidden mysteries contained within the text. But this answer wouldn't fly in a mainstream Christian church. There is only one answer and one "official" word of God: The Bible (although the translations do vary). And if it doesn't support their theology then you're reading and interpreting the scripture incorrectly. So what then becomes the arbitor of truth? To me, the statement sounded more like, "if the Theology doesn't support It, I won't believe It". What is the danger of continuous and progressive revelation, why does revelation have to stop with just the Torah, just the Bible, or even just the Qu'ran? (What about revelation contained within a flower?) Why must the universe which is capable of producing nearly infinite (if not infinite) variations of everything that we feel necessary to reduce the creative Word, the Logos, The Breath of God to a single book? Take the Beatles song "Yesterday" for example. This one song has entered the Guinness Book of Records for having the most cover versions of any song every written at well over 3000 versions. Why did we allow for all these other heretical versions to crop up, how are we going to choose the correct version? The easy answer would be the original is correct, but what if the original Word of God (getting back to the topic at hand) clashes with our theology? In the end WE choose what beliefs to follow, we decide what is truth regardless if God said it or not. In the end We decide what is considered the Word of God.

Are we not able to evolve and progress without the Word? If God stopped speaking to mankind shortly after his chat with John the Revelator then what about democracy, universal human rights, the free market, modern science, and other modern man-made systems? Are these doomed to failure because God did not speak of these in his book? I know some apologetics like to say that science, democracy, and other modern inventions are found in the book but this is eisegesis. If we are to truly follow what God says in the Bible and exclude everything else we would find ourselves incompatible with the 21st century: Christian women would have little to no rights, Christian children would be centuries behind other children in math and science, and Christians would form communities closed off to outsiders. I'm not out to bash Christianity but if you are to believe the Bible is the ONLY thing one should believe, uphold, and teach to future generations then eventually this form of Christianity will die out. (I have yet to read Why Christianity Must Change or Die by Bishop Spong but I'm assuming some of this is in his book.)

So why would God (however you may describe the word God) limit revelation to a single book? I believe that God is constantly being revealed to every person, every second of every day everywhere.

77 Jesus said, "I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained.

Split a piece of wood; I am there.

Lift up the stone, and you will find me there."

Gospel of Thomas, Logia 77

I can not envision that the universe as the creative force would stop creating, breathing, speaking, is-ing. How can one be in a relationship with Jesus Christ if only one person is doing the speaking? You can try to rationalize God's silence, in the personal relationship which many Christians claim to have, anyway you want but I know that if I gave my wife the silent treatment we'd be off to marriage counseling in a week. Without constant contact, interaction, and communion with one another we can't grow or evolve to meet our true potential, which is why this phase strikes me as odd. How do Christians balance the personal relationship they claim to have with God while claiming revelation has been closed for centuries?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Adventures in Unitarian Land: Part 2- Additional Thoughts

Last week I wrote on my recent encounter with the Unitarian Universalists of Murfreesboro. I was actually so surprised by the similarities between my beliefs and theirs as well as stunned by their symbolism that I questioned if I wasn't already a UU. What I didn't get around to mentioning in my last post is the second half of the service.

As Sharon concluded her talk (I hesitate to use the word 'sermon' to describe this very informal talk) the UUs passed the collection plate (everyone's got to eat) and moved to extinguishing of the Chalice.

"And now we extinguish our chalice, but not the one that
forever in our hearts.
It glows bright to help us face the world's shadows,

with a chalice of light.

To face the world's coldness,

with a chalice of warmth,

To face the world's terrors

with a chalice of courage.

To face the world's turmoil,

with a chalice of peace.

May its glow fill our spirits, our hearts, and our lives,

until we meet here again in peace, hope and love."
At first I wondered why they would even extinguish the flame. Why not keep an eternal flame burning (again forgetting they were meeting in borrowed space)? I had overlooked the simplicity and symbolism of the extinguishing of the Chalice: the chalice is merely a physical representation of the symbolic flame we have within ourselves. Through community connection and reflection we keep spirit alive: that which binds and interweaves us with each other. I believe it points to that primal energy, the core of our humanity. The lighting and extinguishing of the chalice is a reminder of where we came from, who we are now, and the hidden potential of our future.

During the second half of the service we had the choice between going on a meditation walk or participating in a Q and A with the guest speaker. Although I found the idea of a meditation walk intriguing I'm drawn to discussion and dialog. The comments and questions circled around the theme of our difficulty to control ourselves during pressure situations. Belief and dependence on a deity for assistance, and even the concept of a deity itself, was never mentioned. I was tempted to bring up the Hebrew phrase hevel havalim, "breath of breath", from the wisdom of Ecclesiastes and the concept of living in an impermanent and chaotic world. But I'm not a good public speaker and I enjoy hearing others speak more than myself (I do enough of that here) so I kept my mouth shut. What I did enjoy was the open interaction as well as the themes of connection and unity you don't see at other churches. I believe these are vital for the human spirit although the symbols, language, and imagery are just what they are: symbols, language and imagery. They point towards what we struggle to name yet the tangible is just as impermanent as the rest of the cosmos, frail and extinguishable.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Origins of A God-Sized Puzzle

I started this blog in the fall of 2008 inspired by a musing I had one day during one of Rabbi Rami's classes (which if any students still attending MTSU should take at least one of his courses). That original musing became the mission statement for A God-Sized Puzzle, which held a pretty bold goal for me at the time. Although I have strayed from some of the language in the original statement I feel I have followed its spirit. The concept behind a God-Sized Puzzle was simple: to learn how we are connected to and interdependent with each other, and by realizing our place in the puzzle we understand our importance and need for each other. I believe this should lead us to becoming more compassionate towards one another despite our tribal nature and the inherent differences of our tribal identities.

As an assignment for one of the Rabbi's classes we wrote an essay stating our beliefs in which the option to submit it to the This I Believe project by NPR was heavily encouraged. This I Believe collects belief statements by people from all walks of life in an effort to establish a global dialog. In it I spoke of our uniqueness within this God-Sized Puzzle and my personal quest to learn from my fellow pieces. The Rabbi responded to my article stating he wrote something similar in his book Wisdom of the Jewish Sages. I recently found a short but wonderfully beautiful video excerpt which captures my present interpretation of A God-Sized Puzzle.
"Consider a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece has its place, and no other piece can fit that place. Yet no one piece makes sense on its own. Each piece needs the whole for its integrity and coherence. And the whole needs each piece to fulfill its purpose and bring meaning and order to the puzzle. Once a piece is in its proper place, its separateness is surrendered. We know a piece is in its place when it blends with the whole and disappears. What is true for a puzzle is true for Reality, with one exception: There is no hand putting us in our place. We must do that for ourselves. We must discover our place and take it. And when we do this, we discover the integrity and meaning of the whole; we discover the divine energy that flows through all things that links each to the other and all to God." -Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages.
This is my spirituality: to discover my place in the whole and by embracing the All, the God-Sized Puzzle, we can become more loving and compassionate to our fellow man.

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.