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Minister's Corner - April 2024

A friend complained to me that she went to a wedding, and in place of a ceremony focused on the couple getting married got a lesson in theology. She had expected to witness a ritual celebrating a lovely older couple who found love late in life in a particularly remarkable way, but found herself “trapped” in a ritual focused more on Christ’s sacrifice than their relationship.” These are roughly her words- “One more special human experience, got hi-jacked for a mostly rote lecture praising a fiction that 2/3rds of the audience didn’t believe was true.”

Most of us have probably been to a memorial service or wedding where the lifetime journey of the person who has just passed away, or the story of the couple being married gets passed over for, as my friend described it “… an unrequested religious lecture.” She closed what had turned into something of a comic rant by saying…“If I didn’t know better I would think she was marrying Jesus.” With permission, I started to share her funny frustrations with others.

Here are some relevant complaints from others that I picked up in the process of telling her story. “Why is it that at every service I ever go to, God gets all the credit for everything and none of the blame for anything?” “That’s stupid… Right? Another mentioned that “It’s odd that we are willing to praise God for saving the proverbial baby in a plane crash that killed 50 of its 51 passengers.” That led to someone else very clear that “Churches should pay property taxes.”

In one conversation where I shared my friends funny sacrilege one person said, “We live in a culture where athletes still frequently bow in thanks for every touchdown scored, but never curse the sky for any fumbles dropped.” “I hate that.” This was followed by another person who said, “It is dumber still that no TV announcer ever calls them out for it.” Followed by…“What does it say about our culture that athletes never say a word about politics, but they can genuflect right there for all of us to say without any critique.” Another friend prompted by the complaint about the wedding asked why TV preachers are not brought up on false advertising charges?” She said, “I think much of what they say qualifies more as fraud than prayer.”

I told them I would share their complaints with you-my congregation- and that most of you would agree. This both pleased and shocked them. It also gave me the confidence to use her story as a springboard to my own religious complaints. You can expect a good humanist rant from me about once a year. And here it is.

My own favorite critique of traditional religion is that we almost never don’t talk enough about how ironic it is that it is only in regards to religion that we look back in history for truth. In no other area of life is this true. From the way we think about money, do math, make eyeglasses, or raise kids do we look back in history for the answer. And, given that the predominant world theologies, and their accompanying sacred texts are all at least fourteen hundred years old, why is this not questioned more?

As we know, Jesus, Muhammed, and Buddha, offer very, very little moral guidance on any of the moral challenges of our time. For reasons too obvious to mention, the holy trinity of sacred historic figures that initiate the three major world religions have not articulated positions on stem cell research, immigration, gay marriage, or even abortion. From almost everything that perplexes us today, from A.I., to tax policy, to water rights, and/or whether we should explore space, our historic religions offer nothing. The why is comically obvious. They and their founders or heroes are all products of their own contexts. And, although everyone acknowledges this, we are still supposed to pick through the shards of things they say for defining guidance on the issues of our times. Frankly, that’s a little silly.

In fact, as we all know one of the bible’s most sacred stories is about honoring the faith in God expressed by Abraham for tying up his pre-teen son and holding a knife over him. The fact that anyone would ever brag about Abraham’s steadfastness for waiting knife in hand for God’s guidance as to whether he should or not he should kill his favorite son is just one obvious expression of the insanity of looking back 3 to 4 thousand years for moral advice. The very wording of the story sounds more like a description of events from the pen of Social Worker documenting child abuse, than an act of faith?

And while I’m ranting about Abraham, let’s not forget that about 12 years before Abraham traumatizes his favorite son by tying him up and threatening to kill him, the very father of all three of our western monotheistic traditions just a decade earlier kicked out into a barren desert his first born son Ishmael and his enslaved Arab mother Hagar. I know Abraham is an easy target. But the story is so creepy, that it can’t help but cause us to question the act of looking back. If you don’t know the story Abraham’s first son Ishmael was born out of a permitted sexual relationship Abraham had with his housemaid that he was given permission by God to have so that “he” could have an heir. All was as copasetic as such an unequal sexist relationship could be until Abraham’s equally aged Jewish wife Sara miraculously got pregnant. And after giving birth proposes to Abraham that he should kick Hagar and Ishmael out of their home. No wonder we got issues in the middle-east. If the bible deserved the unquestioned relevance some of it give us today, the racism, sexism, and patriarchy of this story be so embarrassing as to keep it out of the bible.

Seriously, how does that kind of racism, psychopathology, and patriarchy not invalidate the book claimed to be written by God’s hand? Well, in many ways, and for increasing numbers, it does.

I think it is clear to all of us that these are not deeply insightful observations, as much as they are obvious hypocrisies’. This may not be peaceful or hopeful newsletter material, and my tone is hardly in tune with the present UU trend of using flowery loving language, but this kind of heretical frustration and questioning is an important part of our heritage too. It is for that reason, riffing off my friend’s complaints about a wedding that I offer them.

We should never forget that we are a church of faithfully heretical, “Gentle Angry people” Within too few formally religious settings outside Unitarian Universalism are we encouraged to rail at God, or scrutinize the very historic fables that establish our faith traditions. I suppose it is about time for a conclusion to my rant. And, here it is. Since most of the established religious options are traditional ones, what relationally happens to the average American today is that people either see them as sacred, or politely endure the hypocrisy, or quietly walk out into the secular world. And too me, that’s the real danger. Many, many, many people lose their will to have any formal kind of religious life because they are told that unless they have “faith,” in these old ideas and institutions- which today most of us don’t- they are somehow existentially lost. That is a theology with implications.

Although there really are few established places and traditions like ours where we engage the complexity of living a spiritual life without needing blinders, I’m not here to praise us. We are hardly perfect. You may very well feel that our experience in our church is too much head and not enough joy… too much challenge and not enough celebration. I feel you. I think you are right, and critiquing others is hardly a foundation upon which to rest our spirituality. Nevertheless, the world needs us who still sit inside churches to help expose hypocrisy where we see it. At the end of a rant about traditional faith, I do hold the longstanding UU faith that we can be part of the solution.

See you in church!

Rev. Steve


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