What I Believe
You should know what your minister believes and how those beliefs shape their ministry.
What I Believe
I have often preached that as a Unitarian Universalist, we believe in “deeds, not creeds”, that it’s not as important what you believe, than what you do with your beliefs. While I still hold that to be true, I also have to add that “what” we believe is important, because it forms the basis of who we are and how we live in the world. Unitarian Universalists have often shied away from stating “this I believe” because we also acknowledge another great truth, that “revelation is not sealed,” which means of course, our beliefs keep changing. My purpose here is to acquaint you with how I formed the beliefs that I hold and how they affect my preaching, teaching and ministry.
I was born into a non-religious, non-church going family.
It’s not that my parents didn’t think religion was important. They just didn’t know what to do about it. My mother was raised as a drop-in attender to an evangelical, speaking-in-tongues congregation in rural Tennessee, which left her feeling vaguely uncomfortable. My father was raised in a Hungarian-immigrant family of Catholics. As he grew up and became interested in science and engineering, he had a difficult time reconciling his scientific beliefs with the teachings of the Catholic church. He rejected church all together for most of his life, not professing any religious or spiritual beliefs. My mother felt it was important for us to have “something,” so I was raised in a Missouri-Synod Lutheran Church in Akron, OH until age 13. During a catechism class I rejected the notion of predestination and eternal damnation, and was promptly asked to leave the class! I never went back. My family and I were church-less for the rest of the time I lived at home
Finding Unitarian Universalism was the beginning of my spiritual journey.
When I attended college at Kent State University, I was invited to play music with a friend of mine at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent,. Although the church was tiny at the time, with about 30 people in worship, they were some of the most radically minded people I had ever met! They ran the gamut from atheists, agnostics, scientists to new age believers to former Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists and gentle, non-judgmental Christians. In college, I was attracted to philosophy but didn’t realize until much later that what I loved was theology – the study of divinity – the study of God. It was at that church I first heard the call to ministry. By 1989, I headed out west to the Iliff School of Theology in Denver to attend seminary. At that time, I would have defined my theological beliefs as benignly atheistic; not seeing any convincing evidence for God, but not objecting to the belief in God either. I also enjoyed being a theological provocateur and devil’s advocate to my more conservative United Methodist colleagues. Little did I realize that my own beliefs were soon to change.
The first church I served was the small but mighty Westside UU Church of Knoxville, TN. Although I candidated in a spectacularly dreadful storefront building, I remember how much care they put into welcoming me. I fell in love with the congregation’s hard work and dedication very quickly. At the same time, I found a small group of ecumenical colleagues who met weekly for Bible study. Although I had little interest in the Bible, I needed friends, so I went. It was at that ecumenical Bible study that a new world opened up for me. In the presence of challenging and caring conversations, I discovered that I loved the stories in the Bible; both their beauty and their terror as an expression of humanity’s grappling with the Divine, with that ineffable presence some call God. I also discovered, as if for the first time, a Jesus that I could appreciate. He was not a cardboard cut-out Jesus, but he came alive to me during those Bible study sessions; in a way that surprised me. In 1999, I attended my first Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship Revival in New Orleans. I witnessed there a way of being both a Christian and a Unitarian Universalist.
What Unitarian Universalism encourages is the freedom to explore our own beliefs, the support to encourage those beliefs and the resources to act upon them. Over the course of my ministry, I’ve come to belief this: At the very heart of the human experience, is an experience of the Holy. The Holy is that animating presence for good that forms us from birth and welcomes us at death. We catch glimpses of it in between the lived reality of being born and having to die in moments of transcendent awareness. This experience of the Holy continues to push us towards greater deeds of service, sacrifice and self-control. If we heed the call, the Holy can shape us into lives that inspire, touch and transform ourselves, others and the world.
I am inspired by the great teachers who have manifested the Holy in their life’s work. Jesus continues to inspire me because of his deep commitment to justice and human dignity, the cost of which was his own life. The Buddha’s insistence on one simple truth “Life is suffering,” and that there is a way out of suffering by engagement with the Eight-fold Path, keeps me rooted in a meditation practice. The music of Johann Sebastian Bach has taught me that transcendent can be harnessed into notes on a page, bringing the human spirit into places it did not know it could venture. The art of Anselm Kiefer takes me to the edge of vicarious destruction, yet offers hope amidst the ruins. The ordinary interactions with loved ones and congregation members serve as my teachers as well, reminding me of this very hard, but deeply rewarding experience of learning to be human together.
Theological Beliefs & Influences
I’m first and foremost, a Unitarian Universalist in theology with Christian and Buddhist spiritual practices. I am deeply appreciative of our insistence on rational thought and the humanist perspective that what is important is life right here and right now and that it is incumbent upon the power of the human mind and heart to make heaven on earth. I give credit to Buddhism for introducing me to the practice of zazen, or “just sitting” as one of the most radical innovations in spiritual practice; to just sit and listen to and ultimately calm one’s mind. I am grateful for the ancient texts found in both the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament and non-canonical scriptures (i.e., Gnostic Gospels and Early Christian writings)
How my beliefs affect my preaching and teaching.
I’ve been preaching, teaching and leading Unitarian Universalist congregations since my ordination in 1993. I have great respect for the fact that on any given Sunday, there will be a congregation of people who hold diverse beliefs and opinions about religious and theological matters. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way! While I feel free to speak my understanding of truth from the pulpit, I never presume that everyone in the congregation shares my opinion. When speaking from another tradition other than Unitarian Universalism, whether it be Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Pagan, it is my responsibility to both define terms and to provide an entree for those who don’t share that theological belief. Providing context, history, background and an acknowledgement of the varying degrees of history with a particular tradition (usually Christianity) helps reassure members that I will, to the best of my ability, speak in such a way that all may feel included and welcomed. I do presume, however, that congregations are spiritually mature enough to hear religious language if it is framed in the ways mentioned above.
I am intentional about spiritual practice as a way of deepening my own, and others relationship with the Holy. Sharing that experience with members of a congregation is truly one of the greatest joys of my life.