Redefining “Faith”

Re-imagine faith

I have issues with Faith.

Not the concept, the word.

Let’s face it; there are real gaps in what we can know and prove, and sometimes we all have to make a leap or two so that we can actually make it through the day. If we are being totally honest, we admit that there is no possible way to know, beyond all doubt, that the sun will come up tomorrow. But most of us believe pretty strongly that it will nonetheless; and that is okay. The notion that we can, and sometimes have to, form a belief in the face of incomplete evidence does not trouble me; what I have a problem with is we have named this concept “faith” and made it the ideal.

I take issue with this because I hate that our religious and moral fiber is often determined in direct proportion to how many “leaps of faith” we are willing to make in the name of our religion of choice. Furthermore, it seems that those who maintain a belief, even in the face of a mountain of contrary evidence, are at times even more praise-worthy than those who choose to walk the paths of religious integrity, living their beliefs every day. Why does it seem that in the eyes of religion how little we question is valued more than how intentionally we act?

This means that if you value critical thinking, questioning, and examination, you may feel just a tad alienated by the whole “faith” thing. And it certainly puts us non-creedal, question-loving Unitarian Universalists in an interesting predicament. Are we a people of “faith” or not? If “faith” is defined as the willingness to accept beliefs in the face of lacking or even contrary evidence, then perhaps not. Do we reject “faith” and all that comes with it, or embrace it?

I propose we say “no” to both.

We have been stuck for far too long debating the use of religious language in our congregations (I am looking at you, UUs who refer to “faith” as the “f-word”). If we are going to move forward as a religious community, we need to look “faith” in the eye and re-claim it once and for all.

“We are the church of the open minds, loving hearts, and helping hands.”

If you have spent any time leading UU children in religious exploration, you know that what we teach our children does not involve telling them to accept ideas and entire moral codes on authority alone. We teach our children and youth that it is what we do that matters, and that we ought to try to do our best to live our Principles every day. This approach to “faith development” suddenly changes the simple act of picking up trash into a faithful one.

We work with our kids to help them ask questions and introduce tools as they explore their very own path. We tell them that it is okay to disagree with yourself and others after learning something new, and that old ideas can and should make way for new information. We let them know that wisdom can be found just about anywhere from anyone if you just leave yourself open to the possibility.

In short, for Unitarian Universalists “faith” should not be a noun; it should be a verb.

We develop our faith by learning to be powerful people of intention and integrity. Unitarian Universalism is a religion with a rich history of people who have acted in faith; not on faith. We are a religion that talks about walking a faithful path, not making leaps of blind faith. We become strong congregations when we gather to search for our paths and provide support to one another as we aspire to walk these paths faithfully.

So why is it in our current climate where more and more are rejecting the practice of blind religious faith in favor of scientific discovery and critical examination, that Unitarian Universalism is not growing? Perhaps it is because we are a people of faith who have not yet told the world “faith” is not about the blind trust of authority, but about building the trust of community by acting in line with reasoned beliefs. We have yet to tell the world that we are Unitarian Universalist and that WE Redefine Faith.

Being UU at Home

Being UU at Home

When I was growing up it was always safe to assume that the only Unitarian Universalist kids attending whatever school I was enrolled in at the time also lived in my house. In other words, UU kids were kind of hard to come by outside of our home and church.

I remember how hard it was for me to know just how to handle conversations about religion when I was really young; I was acutely aware that my church was different from the churches that most of my peers attended, but I was always unsure of how to respond if religion ever happened into a conversation. Generally speaking, my anxiety would result in a giant lump in my little throat and I would hurriedly search for a way to excuse myself from the impending blank stares that were sure to come my way after I revealed the lengthy name of my home church. Religious discussions meant either chiming in and letting my faith be known, or simply keeping my mouth shut and avoiding eye contact in hopes that I would simply disappear.

For most people whose faith traditions are not the cultural norm, conversations like these can take a great deal of energy, no matter how old you are. Like other UU kids, I had experienced the heartbreak of losing a friend because her parents didn’t approve of my family’s faith, and this added yet another dimension to my anxiety. But as I got older, I found I could have religious conversations quite easily and, nine times out of ten, I knew more about the other person’s faith than they did (or ever wanted to). I even started seeking these debates and discussions wherever I could find them; but I still found it very difficult to make friends who could put up with my convictions, my love of debate, and…well… I was kind of on the annoying side.

My peers would innocently ask me what they thought was an incredibly simple question: “What IS Unitarian Universalism?” Of course, they were suddenly blindsided with my awesome religious history lecture as I shared with them more than they ever wanted to know about my faith and the history of the Protestant Reformation.

What I didn’t get at the time is that those who asked me about my faith really didn’t want to me to present a dissertation on the history of Unitarian Universalism (shocker, I know). What they really interested in was, “What does it mean to be a UU and what does this look like in your life?”

They didn’t want to hear about some guy they have never heard of being burned at the stake; they wanted to know if Santa still came to our house. They wanted to know if we said a prayer at dinner, if we went to church every Sunday and if we had a Bible. In short, they wanted to know how my life was different from theirs because of my religion.

I think that the tendency to lecture instead of opening a window into our lives is common amongst Unitarian Universalists. Sometimes we, understandably, get so excited by all knowledge we think we have obtained as a result of our faithful journeys and we forget that what we ought to share with the world is not a list or a lecture, but our passion for exploration and learning. There is always space for lectures and dissertations; they are a necessary element to our faith, but to someone who isn’t on this journey, or even for someone who is, the real power of Unitarian Universalism may just be when a UU kid stands up for someone else who is being bullied because, to him, that is what it means to be a UU. Unitarian Universalism shines when we lift the voices of those who would otherwise go unheard and when we strengthen our own spirits through a practice that fills our hearts. The power of our faith is in what we do every day of our lives. It is in how we celebrate our holidays and how we are with the people we love (and the people we don’t).

To me, our faith means that I never stop looking for new ways to grow and learn. It means that my family lights a chalice at dinner every night and we enjoy each other’s company in a sacred space. It means that I pray on some days and meditate on others and I celebrate holidays that make sense to me and in ways that honor me, my family and my earth home.

We should celebrate the ways in which our faith enriches our lives and the lives of those around us; perhaps even more than we celebrate the theologies we reject. Perhaps it is time to shift our focus: What does our Unitarian Universalist faith mean to you?