The Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins of Louisville Presbyterian Seminary offers Four Beatitudes for Church Leadership on his blog Thinking Out Loud. They are: 1. Bless dissent 2. Bless failure 3. Bless story 4. Bless blessing.
Reading through his blessings this morning I asked myself, “How do Unitarian Universalists churches and church leaders do in these areas?” Just you know, thinking out loud.
1. Bless Dissent: Unitarian Universalists do not bless dissent. This is odd, I thought out loud, because we consider ourselves heretics and how much more full of dissent can one be than to be a heretic? Yet, in our congregational life, the person who throws a wrench in the works or asks where the money is going to come from, or who doesn’t share the prevailing liberal political opinion is not blessed. In fact quite the opposite. Beyond the congregation, my experience is that for all our talk of congregational polity, our tiny little religious association is like a small national business or law firm and if you expect to have a career as religious professional in this business, you quickly learn to play by the rules, make allies, and certainly don’t question the powers that be and prevailing (although by no means successful) way of doing things, at least until you have final fellowship. For all of our storied history as heretics, I see us as a conservative bunch that doesn’t really like dissent.
Bless failure. Unitarian Universalist don’t bless failure. We run away from it. Maybe it’s because we have no theology of sin or theology of evil. For all our talk of right relationship we seem to me to be incredibly uneasy around failure as if it’s not a part of success. The journey is the thing, not necessarily the destination. My experience is that we are not a permission granting culture in our Unitarian Universalist congregations. We have a UU way of doing things, not an “explore and discover” way of doing things, and for a bunch of heretics that strikes me as very strange. Thank God for the UU Growth Lab, the Missional Church Folks, and some others out there creating on our edges or we truly would be a dying bunch. It’s hard to bless failure when we still measure a congregations worth by its numbers and its money. Depth doesn’t count, spiritual growth doesn’t count. Meaningful worship experiences don’t count. How much you serve the community doesn’t count. Political involvement counts and so does money collected for Association Sunday and paying your dues and the number of members you have. If those things are good, you are successful. Perhaps if those things are terrible you are successful because depth is being achieved elsewhere.
Bless story: Unitarian Univeralists do bless story, but the story is an old one. It is Francis David’s story and William Ellery Channing’s story and Hosea Ballou’s story. It’s a great story to be sure. The problem is I don’t think we’re doing as good a job helping people understand their own stories. Everyone has a spiritual story and every group, every congregation, every tribe has a spiritual story. These stories need to be told and they need to be heard. Frequently, more often than many would like to admit I fear, these stories include God, not the old man up in the sky God, but the that which is beyond all and within each God and we spend far too much time wordsmithing ourselves and our stories as to not offend anyone instead of telling our stories. Our spiritual authenticity thrown out the window for fear that we will not appear tolerant if we claim our actual spiritual ground.
Bless blessing: I wonder often, but maybe not often enough out loud, if Unitarian Universalism is a life giving culture? As Michael Jinkins notes, our culture is a cursing culture, from Fox News to the casual conversation. How are our congregations and even our pulpits different? Are Republicans the enemy? Are Christians the enemy? Are Fundamentalists the enemy? God knows I am guilty of this. We all are I think. Blessing the world is our fundamental task and even is the pursuit of justice, the task is not curse the opposition but by force of example, of your living, your blessing, to win over hearts and make friends. Blessing is the work of the heart, not the head.
So, how are we doing?