Missing: spiritual discourse

A visit to my favorite local UU church this past weekend led to the realization that I probably won’t be getting my spiritual fulfillment from a church any time soon.

The two things that draw me to church are:

  1. the peaceful environment;
  2. the people — my friends and their parents and the various children; and
  3. the promise of some spiritual tidbit being intellectually examined in a way that leaves me enriched in some way when it’s over. I don’t think I can get that from a standard sermon.

The last really requires discussion, not a lecture/sermon, and optimally a discussion with some of those people I’m there to be with.

The sermon I heard this weekend really drove this point home. It was argued that UU religious education is failing because, even though the ideas of skepticism and worldly knowledge are instilled in the children, the children don’t strongly associate those things with being UUs.

As if that education is all for naught if the grown child doesn’t automatically answer that they’re a UU when asked.

As if, you know, it’s all about trading one type of label-loving indoctrination for another.

I didn’t want to sit and passively take that in. I wanted to argue and get at the real heart of the issue, which might be that UU church is having trouble getting and retaining youthful adults (18 – 30 year olds). That’s not due to a lack of indoctrination, that’s due to a lack of relevant and deep discussions.

In talking with folks afterwards, it was proposed that the dinners that used to be held at Michael and Nathan‘s house fulfilled some of that purpose. Six to ten of us would get together, share in cooking and chat.

The problem with groups, of course, is that the larger the group, the more superficial the conversation. But if you shrink the group and give it a purpose — to discuss spiritual things — you run into the artificiality issue that arises with any group coming together to do something out of the context of the rest of their lives. It will very easily feel unnatural and forced.

“Well, Bob, what should we talk about next week?”

“Hmm, I don’t know, Jayne. Let’s try life after death this time. How about that?”

“Oh, boy, Bob, I think that’ll be great fun. Okay, everyone, do some thinking about life after death for next week. Maybe each of us can get creative and draw up some diagrams!”

That’s not worth anyone’s time. The best, most revealing discussions happen fairly naturally among people who are already thoughtful about the issues at hand. I can cherry pick those people, but I can’t easily force that natural conversation except through proximity.

Which puts me back at the dinners that aren’t happening anymore. I don’t have the facilities right now to hold gatherings like that, and by the time I do, many of the people I’d like to have them with will be gone to grad school or far away jobs.

Maybe the best I can do is to work on my proximity to some of those thoughtful people on a more individual basis.

  • My friend from the Haute and I discussed this just two days ago. We both miss our discussions/debates on the deeper topics – with anyone really. Generally we both spurred each other to think hard on the ideas, and even stale doctrines take on a new light when discussed with interest and enthusiasm.

    Sadly, the things that I find particularly profound do not impress most others much (and equally in reverse). As an example, being a ‘doubting Thomas’ is not condemned in any way, but rather Jesus observes that one who believes without seeing and touching is happy. This means a lot to me, since I no longer feel outcast, for my doubts and yet there is truth in it – many who simply believe are indeed happy with it. I am typically not. (One must also think of Slartibartfast’s profound quip on the subject as well – a type of side note that would oft enrich my discussions with Aaron.)

    Regardless, thoughtful people are somewhat hard to find, and I always knew that after school I would be hard pressed to keep up that precious input. I still mourn the loss of so much of it.