Question Box Questions Answered!
Back in August 2016 we held a Question Box Sunday here at the UU Church of Lexington. Originally, I was going to answer 2-3 a week, but it feels more appropriate to answer them all at once. I organized all of the questions into nine sections based on content/theme. Some of these are rather easy and brief, but others will require additional thought. As always, the bulk of these answers come from my own experience and opinions. You are encouraged to explore your own beliefs with many of them.
Questions Answered During Service
(Sorry, needed to be in attendance to get the answers!)
-What are Unitarian Universalists?
-What is one single action that each of us can take to enhance the life of at least one person?
-How do we square our desire to be open to, and informed by, many religions, when some of those call for exclusion, conversion, or injury to those who don’t follow their particular path?
-What is your favorite place in the world you would like to visit?
-Why do certain religions believe it is a sin to be cremated and why? And what is the UU belief on cremation?
-How does UUCL honor our 7th principle?
-Why do we sing so many songs about peace but vote for politicians who start one war after another?
-Given the history of every religion, the reasons men organized them, the mentality of those men, and the brutalities, injustices, and attitudes those men committed, and had others commit – Why do UUs still call themselves a church? Why not create a better name such as Meetings, etc?
-How do we find balance between the joys and deep/devastating sorrows of life? Is balance one of the great myths of our time?
-We hear a lot about radical religious fanatics who “hijack” the religions principles to support their own agendas. Is a fanatical UU radicalism possible? If so, what did, could, or does it look like?
How old is the church?
The congregation is almost 67 years old.
What is the “common purpose” for which UUCL comes together?
This is a multi-layered question. The simplest answer is that our “common purpose” is our mission, vision, and the Principles & Purposes of Unitarian Universalism. But these are often wordy statements. I prefer to use the model of “Listen. Open. Serve.” I’ve used this as an underlying mission for Unitarian Universalism ever since I was introduced to it at First Unitarian in Rochester, NY. What it states is simple: We gather together to Listen to our deepest selves, Open to life’s gifts, and Serve needs greater than our own. Listen. Open. Serve. One other piece that we see here at UUCL on the back of our purple t-shirts is a simple statement: “Action with Love for Justice.” Action. Love. Justice. These two statements are very simple distillations of UUism that work quite well (for me at least).
Does this church have a sister/brother church in another country?
We have a sister congregation in Nyomat, Transylvania. In the past, UUCL has gone on pilgrimage to Nyomat and they have come to visit us as well. We are due for another visit. We continue to support them financially twice a year. The covers on many of our hymnals were made by the members of that congregation.
Why can’t we get the geothermal heating/cooling project underway?
After several months of deliberation, the Board of Directors at UUCL determined that geothermal is not the best system for our current building usage/needs. In other news, we have solar panels!
What is a good UU elevator speech?
Good elevator speeches speak from the heart. I often share something similar to this: “We are a religious tradition that hold shared values while encouraging people along on their own spiritual journeys. As Unitarians, we believe that we all come from one source, as Universalists, we believe that we will return to that source.”
Some say UUCL is the only UU church in Lexington. But what is the status of the Richmond congregation?
The Richmond congregation is located in Richmond, KY. So as far as Lexington is concerned, we are the only church in this city. As an aside, we are also the only church between Lexington and Charleston, WV that has a minister and we are the largest in Kentucky. The Richmond congregation is a small fellowship with a great facility and dedicated community. While Rev. Roger Fritts was instrumental in their organization when he was minister of UUCL, they are an independent congregation. It would be great to partner with them more closely in the future.
What is your greatest, most loving, hope for this congregation and Unitarian Universalism?
My greatest, most loving hope for UUCL is that it will continue to grow in love for itself. Through this simple action, it will empower us to share our beliefs openly, be more active in the community, and take seriously the needs of our community.
Would we notice any differences in northwest UUism versus Lexington’s?
You would. Each UU congregation is different. Northwest UU congregations tend to resemble other West Coast congregations — they have a more “free flowing” style. There are exceptions to everything, of course.
Worship & Religious Exploration/Education
Why do we continue to use the word “worship” when so many of us don’t really believe in its traditional definition?
Worship is a difficult word for many that come to our congregations. For some folks, they like to dig deeper into the word and uncover the Old English word “weorðscipe” — which means “to ascribe worth to something.” I like that definition. Our time together is certainly worth being “ascribed worth.” I am ultimately of the opinion that no matter what we call our time together, it needs to be worthwhile and offer a breadth of ways to engage.
What holidays does this church celebrate?
We regularly celebrate the four seasons, Christmas, Easter, Passover, Flower Communion, Water Communion, many of the days in the “Wheel of the Year,” and draw inspiration from several others, such as: Diwali, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Bodhi Day, the High Holy Days, etc.
I wonder why so many UU family children drop out of UUism.
It leads me to ask the follow up question: Have parents made it something worth holding onto?
Do we follow the standard UU RE curriculum?
We follow a workshop/studio model of RE curriculum. This allows us to have a functioning RE program despite there being a need for more volunteers.
Why do we only do spoken Joys & Sorrows once a month?
Have we ever celebrated our important earth-centered holidays – solstice, etc – outside with a full outdoor service? If not, could we?
I believe the congregation has in the past before I arrived. I am open to outdoor services so long as we address accessibility, sound, format, and other logistics with the integrity they deserve.
How do we get the message out to many who need us here at UUCL?
I feel that if we were to grow in confidence as Unitarian Universalists and openly share with folks the reasons why we attend UUCL, people will respond to that. This tradition has a history of not wanting to seem overbearing with our message, but, as evidenced by this question and the questions below, we do have a message to share! Why are we not sharing it?
How do you think UU churches should change to make their message known and draw more youth, that in growing numbers are seeing themselves as “spiritual but not religious?”
What ideas do you have to increase volunteerism at UUCL?
I’ve tried to address this from the perspective that we don’t have just volunteers here at UUCL, we have part owners. Joining UUCL is a commitment to our continued existence as a congregation and a responsibility to care for our facilities and grounds through time, talent, and treasure. We do have a lot of volunteers, but we find we always need more. This leads me to think that, perhaps, we either need to make service a part of our culture in a more intentional way OR we need to look at the areas that lack people giving of their time and assess why that is.
How do you see UUCL growing our membership? Better ways to get known by fellow seekers?
We are growing. When I arrive as your minister, we were 265 members. We are now over 300. This is excellent news for us! I feel that if we not only make our presence more known but continue to build upon the good that we are accomplishing, we will continue to grow. Part of this is having opportunities for engagement within and beyond our community, heartfelt and inspiring worship services, and stellar RE and music programs.
UU is so awesome. Why are we not growing faster – both this congregation and worldwide?
See above for the first part. As to worldwide, it is a combination of several factors. Organized religion, in general, is not growing as fast as it once did. But for UUs, we all have this unhealthy culture of not wanting to share our faith because it seems rude. If people don’t know about us, of course they won’t try us out! We certainly shouldn’t be going door-to-door like Jehovah’s Witnesses, but we shouldn’t fear sharing the reasons why we value UUCL.
Justice & Multiculturalism
How can we create a more ethnically diverse community?
Embracing diversity begins with the people we already have. How have we embraced the diversity in the room already? If we say “Well, we’re just all white people,” then we are minimizing the breadth of experience, culture, background, class, etc in the room. I feel that if we more readily embrace our own diversity that it will, naturally, promote a culture of openness.
Why are UU congregations still so white, and how can we work for further outreach?
A lot of the discussion around this is concerning theology. What about our theology promotes whiteness? A lot of people contend that when we say things like, “This church is godless,” that it marginalizes communities that still believe in a higher power — many of which are communities of color. But it spills over into our music, our readings, and our style of worship. We can always be doing better to promote diversity.
Are there ways that we can, together as UUs, include kids in service events for the community?
Certainly. Stacey Stone always tries to offer (and does offer) service projects that are family friendly and would be open to further ideas to continue that good work.
How has UUCL gone out into the community to practice their values?
We march often, we serve breakfast at the Catholic Action Center, we have the Cardinal Valley Mentoring program, you see us at city council and other witness events, and we are engaged in several activities and causes throughout Lexington. I am certain I am missing some ways in which we are engaged.
How can we help the Black Lives Matter movement?
We can work through our own white privilege, educate ourselves on the issues surrounding the Black Live Matter movement, and be at the ready for the ways in which communities of color say we can best be of help.
Ethics & Living
How can you enjoy life and a path you are no longer passionate about when you have discovered a different calling and feel meant to be elsewhere?
Listen to your heart and the calling that is emerging.
When politics center on core moral issues – and when certain moral obscenities are exemplified by a particular candidate, how does the church address those moral concerns without being political?
Churches can be political. We just can’t advocate for one candidate over the other. The policies of Mr. Trump are fair game. This is applicable to any other past or future candidate: Clinton, Sanders, Stein, Johnson, Ryan, Rubio, O’Malley, etc etc etc. Churches were instrumental in chapters of our history in advocating, not for candidates, but for certain policy positions. We should be able to hold our elected leaders accountable, especially if they claim to be people of faith. The Johnson Amendment only prohibits campaigning. So you will never hear me say “Vote for so and so.” But I will challenge you to look at your values and how they relate to the political climate.
How is the path to loving one’s self fulfilled and when will they know that the journey has begun?
I believe asking this question is a great place to begin.
Is it more important to be happy or to do the right thing?
Ask yourself if it is possible to accomplish both. If not, why? What prevents happiness to arise from the “right thing?”
Turning the other cheek vs. standing your ground?
I imagine both are possible depending on the situation.
What do you do when you don’t want to go to church to get you back into the church again?
For me, it is different — I have to be at church. But before I was a minister, there were moments when I didn’t want to attend. It required me to examine why that was so. Was it the minister? Was it the community? Something else? Were my needs not being met? It also required me to ask how I could be proactive in contributing to the church so I wanted to be there. Was that possible? And where was I in my own spiritual journey?
Theology & History
Where do the souls of UUs go when they die?
Some believe we go to heaven, others believe nothing happens. Some folks hold a belief similar to Buddhist/Hindu religious philosophy: We become part of the oneness that transcends reality. Our beliefs are all over the place concerning this issue.
Did Jesus laugh?
He wept. He surely laughed as well. John 15:11 speaks of Jesus sharing his joy with his disciples.
Where did the idea of purgatory come from and when?
Purgatory is a theological position that comes to us from Roman Catholicism in the 12th century.
What do UUs think of joy?
We celebrate the joy we find in life every Sunday — it is an important part of being a Unitarian Universalist.
The founding fathers were all Deists, were they not? The best form of our “faith” is Deism – yes? Expound, please.
Many of them were, many of them were not. A lot of them were Unitarians as well. I wouldn’t say Deism is the “best form of our faith,” but I would say that it is one component amidst a diversity of belief in Unitarian Universalism.
Why do so many people need to believe in a god or gods, regardless of what name they give to god(s)?
It would be important to ask them why. I cannot speak definitively for all theists, but I know that many people find great peace in the notion of a god or gods. They find purpose, comfort, joy, strength, and assurance. These are not bad things to draw upon. But like any belief, there is a diversity and we also find those beliefs being used to harm others as well. A little thought experiment might be to ask yourself: If there was a god I could believe in, what would that look like?
God is often identified in many religions as “the creator of all.” So, who or what made God?
The volumes that have been written on this question and yet, no answer. The compelling question, for me, is not about the “cause of God,” should there be one. But I’m curious about what was before the Big Bang. What did that look like? What was surrounding that super dense pinpoint of all matter in the Universe? What led to it? These questions, God or Big Bang, are an invitation to awe and wonder — in my opinion.
How do UUs cultivate a sense of a “personal God?” What are practices that have worked for UUs? Or – is this something UUs generally don’t do?
Many UUs pray, meditate, and engage other spiritual practices to develop a personal relationship with their understanding of God. Some UUs do these practices just to anchor themselves with no deity in mind as well.
What do you love most about this congregation? What do you love least?
I love that we are a theologically diverse congregation with a genuine and joyful spirit. As to what I love least, let me rephrase: I wish this congregation would continue to grow in love for itself. There is a lot of good here — we should celebrate it.
What is the spiritual or humanist text you draw on the most for inspiration?
Spiritual: The Bhagavad Gita
Naturalist/Humanist: Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
When did you decide to become a minister and why?
I felt the call to ministry very early on in life. I was drawn to the diversity of the work, the spiritual nature of it, and the call to serve what I felt was an important institution — the church.
How has UUism – and this church in particular – shaped who you are?
I feel that in these first two years as your minister, I am a stronger minister because of it. I have grown into my identity as a UU minister, broadened my leadership skills, and embraced more fully my identity as a Unitarian Universalist. Ministers are on the same journey as all of you and this congregation has been an important part of that journey for me.
Who is your favorite Unitarian/Universalist and why?
The Rev. Dr. A. Powell Davies. He was a powerful preacher, phenomenal writer, and had a commitment to the mission and vision of our faith that permeated all that he did. He is my ministerial hero.
What are some things that surprised you during your first year as our minister?
That no matter what, there is always more work to be done. And also, that ministers need to make peace with not being perfect and not accomplishing everything.
What does a stole mean? Can anyone wear one? Can one who is qualified wear it at any occasion?
The stole is a symbol of the yoke to ministry. It has various other levels of interpretation as well. But for UU ministers, it symbolizes our ordination and our tether to the wider ministry of our faith. Ordained ministers can wear it at any occasion they choose to, but it is often worn on Sunday, during rites of passage, and at witness events.
Was there one particular event in your life that brought you to the Unitarian Universalist church?
My best friend and his family invited me and my family. The rest is history.
I read your bio online and, as a fellow geek, I wonder who your favorite comic book character is and why?
Hands down, the Green Lantern. The Green Lantern is often an unwilling hero that is chosen/called to the work of protecting the Universe. I love the humanity of the Green Lantern character along with their many missteps in learning the ropes as new superheroes. It ties in quite nicely with the work of ministry.
Do you have a favorite Rumi quote? If so, what?
“Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”
How did you spend your time away this summer?
Last summer, I had several family weddings and events to attend. However, the bulk of it, just as with this summer, was spent here in Lexington, settling into our new home, and exploring the Bluegrass.
What is your favorite kind of taco?
What about Lexington surprised you the most?
It’s a big town that acts/operates/feels like a small town.
Did you ever meet Obama in Chicago?
I did not.
What are your hobbies?
Reading, writing, hiking, running, and recently, flying.
What are your favorite cookies?
Parker Palmer writes that the power of questions is not about satisfying the curiosity of the listener, but on being a gift for the person offering their vulnerable, whole, self. What is the question that you most need today?
How do I become more comfortable in saying no in ministry so that the authentic “yes’s” can emerge more readily?