Have you ever had to answer the question about what UUs believe? For many Unitarian Universalists, there is little more awkward about being part of our beloved group. Here’s a pro tip: As long as you can say with some clarity what you believe and why you are a UU, that’s really all you need. No one (including ordained ministers) can answer for all of us anyway, and making a personal belief statement is always much easier than trying to define a whole diverse religious culture, which is ever-changing anyway.
So, next time a friend or relative hears that you’re going to that UU place and says, “What exactly do UUs believe?” shift the frame a bit. Say, “I can’t speak for all UUs, but here’s what keeps me connected to that community,” and then say what that is. (I encourage you to practice this with each other or even in the mirror.)
You can shift the frame more broadly, too. I think a more evocative question than “What do UUs believe?” is “What are UUs like?” I think we hit some broadly shared bedrock here more easily than when we talk about beliefs. UUs are searching people, and we are both deeply and broadly curious about lots of things–religion, science, and finding meaning and purpose in life, to name a few. UUs are not afraid of ambiguity. In fact we prefer it to Unchanging Truth with a capitol T. We don’t flinch from doubt. As our spiritual ancestor Robert Weston said, “Cherish your doubts. Doubt is the servant of truth.” (And that’s truth with a small t.)
So that means UUs are open to change though most of us can get our backs up if we’re pushed in an uncomfortable way, but, all in all, most UUs change a lot in our beliefs over the course of our lives. I like the saying that graces the entry to some Unitarian Universalist congregations: “Come as you are; expect to change.”
Also, here’s another thing about UUs. As we change we make some mistakes, and we have to walk back some of our former certainties. Sometimes we need to apologize. It was not a UU but a wise man, nevertheless, who said, “These are the three most important phrases in a human’s vocabulary: I was wrong. You were right. I’m sorry.” (I heard this in a TV sermon in about 1975, and I still remember it and wish I lived up to it better.)
In any case, as UUs we know we are human, and that’s OK because our tradition is proudly humanist. This does not mean we’re godless because some of us love the Goddess or God and thrill to anything that celebrates our connection with the holy.
Of course, some don’t feel that connection at all, and we’re OK with that. We celebrate the broad diversity of humanity and remain committed to making community work when the members of the group are so different. (The single word that describes how we do it is covenant.) As James Luther Adams (one of our ancestors) said, “Church is a place where you get to practice what it means to be human.” Our covenant is sort of a “rules of loving engagement” for the practice.
Therefore, even in – perhaps especially in – these strange and changing times, we’ve got a lot to celebrate about being UU! I look forward to opportunities to gather in conversation with you, IRL or virtually. Give me a call (706-546-7914) or send me an email, and we’ll set up a time.