I joined a church yesterday. I’ve lived my entire life up to this point being “unchurched.” I have never wanted to join a church because…well, for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, I suppose, was the dogma, the creed, the insistence that I relinquish control over my interpretations of the world to…a book, a set of arbitrary rules, ceremonial nonsense that deflects thoughts away from reality toward…something or someone outside myself.
But minds change. Open minds allow firmly rooted concepts to bend and flex. I discovered that not all churches insist that they have the answers. I discovered a church that doesn’t even suggest there are answers, only questions worthy of attempting to answer. Yesterday was a milestone. The only requirements to join were that: 1) I participate in an orientation that explained the history of the church and the seven principles that guide its activities and 2) I agree to affirm and promote the following:
- The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
- Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations;
- Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual grown in our congregations;
- A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our own congregations and in society at large;
- The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
I’ve had “problems” with some of the statements. I have difficulty affirming and promoting “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” But I’ve learned that we’re striving to adhere to those statements, not necessarily that we’re “there” when we join the church. And I appreciate the objectives that the statement imply. What I appreciate as much as, if not more than, the fundamental tenets of the church (and its willingness to accept people regardless of whether they believe or do not believe any creed), is the genuine sense that the people in the church are trying their very best to love one another and to love people in the larger society. They want to make a better, more peaceful, more just, and more respectful world. And they’re willing to try to do their part, knowing full well the world we wish for and hope for won’t be achieved for a long, long, long time, if ever. But they are willing to strive toward achieving it. In some sense, it’s ridiculous; why try to change the world when you know you don’t have the power to change it? It may sound trite, but the reason to try is that you may not be able to change the world for everyone, but you may be able to change it for someone, maybe only yourself. So you try.
For much of my life, I’ve been extremely judgmental about religion and about religious people, even people in my own family. I’ve thought they were allowing themselves to be deluded into beliefs that made no sense. I’ve thought they were subverting their own intellectual capacities and allowing others to think for them. My judgment has softened considerably in recent years, but it hasn’t disappeared. But the past two-plus years of pretty regular attendance at a Unitarian Universalist church, coupled with reflections and considerations of my own, have softened my thinking even more. Though I’m a far cry from sharing beliefs that would make me feel at home in any church expecting me to buy into its creed, I’ve changed. I’m willing to acknowledge that people are perfectly capable of making their own choices about what they do, or don’t, believe. In fact, one does not need the church—any church—to make your own choice about what to believe. But collective endeavors tend to be more fruitful than individual efforts. And being in the company of people who want to improve the world is satisfying. What I find especially gratifying is that the people I’ve come to know at my church aren’t “Sunday believers.” Whether they believe in a supreme power or not (I suspect most don’t), they are daily “doers.” They act on the principles they are asked to affirm and promote. I’ve come to find satisfaction in “promoting and affirming” the principles of UU, as well. And I’ve come to appreciate that, while I’m not “there” and probably won’t get there, the simple fact that I’m making an effort is reason to be hopeful.
So, I joined. So did my wife (she was raised Catholic). I’m happy to be part of a group of people who strive to make the world a better, safer, more just place through their day-to-day actions and interactions with other people. The core values that guide the church are the same as the core values that form the basis for many religions. Just without the creed. It’s the commonalities with other churches—the fundamentals of how to treat others—but the absence of forced acceptance of world views that make no sense to a lot of people, that makes Unitarian Universalism appealing to many people, I think.
I’ve gone on much longer than this topic warrants, so I’ll stop. But I wanted to memorialize in “print” my thoughts on these matters of religion and church membership. After almost sixty-five years, I’ve actually joined a church. Who woulda thunk?