Monthly Archives: February 2013

If I could touch God, it would feel like my mom

By Robin Bartlett Barraza

My kids come with me to a church service in the late afternoons on Sundays at Hope Central Church in Jamaica Plain. This isn’t because I have decided to raise them Christian instead of UU; it is because my days at UUAC are long and my two year old, in particular, can’t handle being at church all day without turning into the anti-Christ, and that seems decidedly beside the whole point of going to church. And I need to worship. I need it big time. Working in a church doesn’t allow for that. I thank God every day for the churches that open at times other than Sunday mornings; churches that pastor to the pastors and the pastors’ kids.

So both of my kids are learning to be more Christ-like (I hope!) at a scrappy, spirit-filled, loving United Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ church that I adore with all my heart. My two year old only has to be there for an hour or so, and they let her run up and down the aisles and give her all you can eat “Jesus bread” at the communion table. This is what building the kin-dom is about, my people.

Anyway, this week, while the grown ups reflected on Lent and the nature of God, my kids were in the RE class also learning about the nature of God. They read Sandra Eisenburg Sasso’s book, “What is God’s Name?” Then they were asked what God was like through their senses.

My two year old said:
“If I could touch God, God will feel like my mom,” (which made me cry, and forced me to forgive her for every obnoxious and defiant “no!” She has thrown at me this week. I imagine God would feel like a mother if I touched God, too. Forgiving my every tantrum and my every defiant “no,” with a warm embrace before I fall asleep.)

My six year old said:
“I would feel happy that I found God. It feels soft.”

The two of them said:
“If God had a sound, she would sound like a butterfly and flowers with a low voice.”

“If God were a color, God would be white, of course.” (As a good white liberal, this quote made me turn five shades of red and purple until the teacher explained that my children said they found God mostly in snow. I still plan to pull out Peggy McIntosh’s “unpacking the invisible knapsack” as bed time reading for tomorrow. Don’t worry.)

“If God were music, God would be a big drum….and a harp with a low sound.”

“God looks like a tall building (Eloisa) and God looks like snow (Cecilia).”

My six year old’s question about God:

“How did God turn into a human?”

Her answer:

“With love and happiness.”

Amen.

Don’t be afraid to ask your kiddos what God looks and feels and sounds and smells and tastes like, even if you can’t conceptualize of these questions yourself. Even if you yourself don’t believe in God. Our youngest children are often our best spiritual teachers. We lose that unabashed love and awe of mystery as we get older (though it often returns to us again in our elder-hoods).

You might be surprised by the answers. Your kids may even answer some of your own questions about God.

I’m pretty sure God smells like the intoxicating aroma of baby shampoo mixed with summer kid head sweat as I nuzzle my babies’ little heads before they go to bed, and feels like the exhausted and overwhelming love that cancels out every sibling throw down and every time-out-inducing sassy comment I bore witness to that day.

God also smells like coffee the next morning, after my two year old has woken me up three times at 1, 3 and 5 am. Amen.

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A 328 Year Marriage

god-is-love
by Robin Bartlett Barraza

Love is the spirit of this church. That is a true statement. Ours is a non-creedal church, meaning what binds us together–what connects us–is not a statement of belief. Rather, what connects us is a way of being together with one another in community. And, love, it strikes me, is a pretty fine way to endeavor to be together. We openly affirm that it is more important to love alike than to think alike. So, rather than trying to agree on a doctrinal statement of belief, we try to cultivate a loving community. As we embark on the pledge season, we have been reflecting on the nature of covenant around here.

We recite this covenant every week:
Love is the spirit of this church, and service its law. This is our great covenant: to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.

We talk about covenants and covenanting a lot without spending a lot of time exploring what we mean by the word. We have a covenantal theology—a theology in which our commitment to the holy is lived out in relationship to one another. This is sustained through hard work, commitment, and with the need for a lot of humility and forgiveness.

Possibly the covenant that we are all most familiar with is the marriage covenant. We covenant with another person (and often, with God and all that is holy) to walk together in love for a lifetime, keeping promises to one another through the bitter and sweet things this world throws at us and our relationships. A lot of us know that this is intimate, back-breakingly hard work—living with someone who is not you. About half the time, it is actually unsustainable work, and some of us break our covenants irreparably.

Well, our church has sustained itself and its covenants for a long time—longer than most of us can imagine. Our covenants, I’m sure, have been broken and broken again, but never irreparably. Can you imagine? This community of memory and hope is 328 years old. Three hundred and twenty-eight years old. Pause with me to reflect on a 328 year marriage. Can you imagine being married—cultivating a relationship of love and compromise and hope and dreaming—for 328 years? Think about what this might entail; what relationship issues one might encounter; how one might weather all of those storms and sustain all of those good times. Imagine all of the leaders and the deaths and the births and the promises and the failures and the quarrels and all the soaring joys.

And then imagine trying to manage all of those relationship issues—together with people you would never choose—in a flawed institution you did not create. Imagine trying to negotiate and renegotiate your goals and marriage contract and vows throughout CENTURIES—helping one another try your best to speak the truth in love. Imagine trying to be a family for three hundred years—a family that quarrels and breaks up and comes back together, and changes and grows and almost dies, and is reborn again. A family who weathers storms and deaths and who creates new babies, and builds new homes, and tries to keep a roof (and a steeple) over its head. A family that raises its kids as best it can; figuring out new ways to be creative in that endeavor as the family grows or shrinks; or the times change, and new things have been learned. We are a centuries old church family, and we have only survived by acting as parts of one body—convinced of our ministry in the world, nurturing the uniqueness of each individual of the body, while remaining unified not in thought or belief, but in Love.

We have managed to do all of this while at the same time remaining deeply committed to the Democratic process; without centralized authority; without creedal tests. Our marriage is time-tested and strong, and like every good marriage needs constant creativity, re-negotiating, communication and a whole lot of fun to last and thrive.

May we affirm the Love that has sustained us in memory and hope, and may we honor our founding ancestors by committing to each other anew year after year. A toast to 328 more years together. Mazel tov!

Check out uuworld.org : the surprising success of lifeboat faith

Doug Muder writes:

“Where the mid-twentieth-century intellectual elite went wrong, I think, was in its assessment of what religion meant to everybody else. Sure, scientific theories like evolution and the Big Bang offer a more compelling interpretation of the evidence than the myths in Genesis. But the core attraction of religion has never been its ability to explain the physical world. Christianity didn’t replace paganism because Noah’s flood story was more compelling than Gilgamesh’s, and today’s fundamentalists aren’t going to switch churches to find a better account of the fossil record.

Far more than explanation, the appeal of religion lies in identity and orientation: Who am I? Who are my people? Why is my life important, and what am I supposed to be doing with it? The rapid change in the modern era has only increased the importance of those perennial questions and raised the value of answers that feel solid and steady.”

 

Check out uuworld.org : the surprising success of lifeboat faith

Congregational Polity

Dear friends,

I am reading the Cambridge Platform for my UU Polity class, a document written a signed in 1648 by our Puritan forebears here in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A response to the Westminster Confession written in the same time period, the document established our congregations as separate bodies, governed by themselves–by the laity–to covenant together to walk in the ways of love with one another and with God. Their devotion to the Bible, and the laity’s insistence that we read and interpret the biblical text without the intervention of church hierarchy was their inspiration for the creation of this document. And the Cambridge Platform established from that day forward what is referred to as congregational polity.

It was entirely democratic; this form of church governance, and it is still the form of governance we use in our UU churches in 2013.

And friends, it was some radical stuff. It was seriously progressive. And make no mistake about it: there was nothing remotely liberal or progressive about the Puritans except their polity. These were the people who established blue laws in Massachusetts–who believed in the total depravity of humanity–who believed that some were elected and some were going to burn in the fiery pits of hell, and we would know who the elected were by their works. These people didn’t play instruments in church. They didn’t dance. They didn’t celebrate Christmas–it was too joyful and would lead to drinking and carousing.

And yet, the Puritans’ radical way in which they insisted on governing their churches would pave the way for the theological diversity we have today within Unitarian Universalism. I’m sure they are turning over in their graves at the thought, but it is true.

Because we have decided to govern our churches from the bottom up–because we use the democratic process–because we can hire and fire our ministers–because our ministers have freedom of the pulpit–and because we can create together our own promises to one another to walk in the ways of love–THIS is how we got to where we are today; a still creedless religion that has allowed for more than one path to truth in our congregations. Our polity has become the center of our theolog(ies). As I have written in an earlier blog post, our Puritan method of doing church became our message.

Covenant is at the heart of that message. We famously tell people we are not a creedal faith. We have no creedal test to pass. Sometimes we forget that what we do have is tougher than any creedal test. We have to add our voice to a set of promises–not just to our God or all that is holy, but to one another–to walk together in love, and to support one another on our journeys of faith.

We recite the covenant of this congregation at every worship service:

Love is the spirit of this church
And service its law
This is our great covenant:
To dwell together in peace
To seek the truth in love
and to help one another.

Though our ancestors would cringe at our current day liberal theology, I think they’d be proud of our commitment to establish our own sovereign churches in the bonds of love, seeking the truth, and helping one another on the path.

May we carry on that legacy of freedom from tyranny and oppressive hierarchy, tempered with a healthy dependency on one another and with the holy.

Amen.