Faith, Spirituality, and Religion: Part Four

This is the admittedly rushed conclusion to the sermon I presented yesterday in Okoboji, Iowa. Good news is I get to preach it a couple of more times this year. I’ll post the final version in November.

Here’s my perspective on religion: it’s where faith and spirituality are lived out in community. Usually that means like-minded people who share a particular belief about that transcending mystery coming together for worship and fellowship.

Hindus gather in temples, Jews in synagogues, Christians in churches, Muslims in mosques. While there are many variations in all of these religions, there’s a basic world view that their adherents share. In all of these religions, the basic world view start with some sort of belief in God.

In addition to a belief in God, these religions often have a set of individual and communal practices that distinguish them from other religions. Unitarian Universalists are no exception. We gather as a body for worship on Sunday mornings, something we share with most Christian denominations. While our services may not differentiate us from our Christian cousins, the time and place of those services alone distinguish us from Hindus, Jews, and Muslims.

But is there something about the way faith and spirituality is lived out in our religious communities that distinguishes us from Christians, too? I think there is.

It’s how our religion binds us together (which is one of the meanings the root of the word “religion” can have, “to bind, connect”). Unitarian Universalism connects us is by acknowledging that the living tradition which we share draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
  • Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

And it does this through the “acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.”

No other religion I know of connects its adherents in this sort of way. Unitarian Universalism acknowledges that we, as individuals, experience that transcending mystery and wondering a myriad of ways. What’s more, Unitarian Universalism recognizes that while we may have different ways of living out our individual experience of that transcending mystery and wonder (those different pathways Ortberg talks about), we can encourage and support one another alone the way, despite our theological differences.

It’s a blessing we were born.
It matters what we do with our lives.
What each of us knows about god is a piece of the truth.
We don’t have to do it alone.
—Laila Ibrahim


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