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A Future of Our Free Faith-SNB

A Future of Our Free Faith-SNB

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Published by Sean Neil-Barron

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Published by: Sean Neil-Barron on May 25, 2012
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A Future of Our Free Faith-Sermon Delivered Sept 4
th
2011First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawaby Sean Neil-BarronlDid any of you see the Passion of the Christ? I didnt, it seemed to get mixed reviews from myfriends both Christians and non-Christians alike. For most, it was the raw emotion of the movie that seemsto make it memorable. A few remarked that the book was better, while still others said it a bit dull becausethey already knew the ending.
What I didn’t know until more recently was that Mel Gibson the movies director had fully intended
to release the f 
ilm without subtitles, a movie fully in Aramaic and Latin. While this wouldn’t be a problemfor me as I speak both Aramaic and Latin fluently (that’s a joke).. for most people who are not biblical
scholars it would present a challenge. Rather Gibson was relying on filmic storytelling. Because the storyof the Passion is so well known, Gibson felt like he needed to avoid using modern language in order tosurprise the audience. He said, "I think it's almost counterproductive to say some of these things in amodern language. It makes you want to stand up and shout out the next line, like when you hear 'To be or
not to be' and you instinctively say to yourself, 'That is the question.”
i
Ultimately the decision was madetoo add subtitles in the movie. But the shear notion that it would be possible to present a movie withoutmodern language and still tell a powerful story tells the shear enculturation of the Christian narrative in ourmodern time.The Passion is a story you can hardly escape. It is the story of prophecy and betrayal, love andhumility, sacrifice and resurrection. Even Harry Potter cannot escape the narrative, as they are simplydeemed to be yet another biblical allegory. I think for many people the Christian story can be summed upin John chapter 3 verse 16 "For God so loved the world that she gave her one and only Son, that whoever
 believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
ii
 The Christian story is one that I think most of us are familiar with. It start with a creation of worldthat god loves, there is trouble in the garden of eden, attempts at creating a just way of life seem to go on
 
for centuries until a miracles birth harkens the salvation of humanity. But there is a meta- narrative behindthis story, a story behind the story. One which casts you as an actor in its unfolding drama. For you are anagent of creation, you are loved by god, and you are to participate in building the beloved community. All
 
the world is in fact a stage and you have to play your part. This is how religion has its power. It strikes at a
core within one’s identity and ties
you to narratives of old. Religion places one in the line of many, addingpurpose and meaning to life through a common story.Stories are prime meaning making activities. Which means they are highly theological. Fortheology is simply the act of trying to understand and create meaning about the cosmic questions that havebeen passed on from generation to generation.I wonder how many people here realized at one time in their life when a particular religiousnarrative they had believed no longer was in line with what they have experienced. These could be the
stories we were told as children from our parents, from our church’s or places of worship.
When we come to this place of religious impasse, where our reality and our believes are no longer
compatible Rebecca Ann Parker a UU Theologian suggests we have three options “to hold onto our 
 
religious beliefs, and deny our experiences, we can walk away from our religious traditions and hold on to
our experiences or we can become theologians.”
iii
 
 
A Future of Our Free Faith-Sermon Delivered Sept 4
th
2011First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawaby Sean Neil-BarronI suggest we follow her advice and become theologians. I have recently come to one of these
 
religious impasses myself. So I invite you to journey with me as I try to unpack my religious impasse withyou, my first attempt at a theological answer.Our Unitarian & Universalist ancestors came from a long line of liberal theologians. Liberaltheology was birthed with political liberalism. Freedom of thought and believe are at its heart, the right of conscious and democracy are sacred, a focus on the individual as the arbiter of truth, and as James Lither
Adams a contemporary liberal theologian, “revelation isn’t sealed.”
 As creation continue to unfold the world changes, our understandings grow and shrink and newfrontiers of thought are approached and ancient ones revisited. It is these hallmarks of our creedless faiththat has no-doubt brought many of you here, as it did me.One of the other hallmarks of Liberal thought is the adaption to and with modern ideas, andpractices. Liberal of all generations has sought to move society forward and not hold on to beliefs orpractices simply for the sake of tradition. Liberals have long argued in favor of harmony between theculture of the day, religion and science. However with these adaptions comes an acceptance and embracingof certain weaknesses of the modern culture.Like all beliefs systems Liberal theology has its weaknesses. Despite claims from UnitarianUniversalist Association President Peter Moralis that Unitarian Universalism is a religion for our times,over the past two years we have seen a decrease in overall membership in the Unitarian UniversalistAssociation. Which has left many of us wondering why. Conversations in the UU blogosphere, yes there issuch a thing, have been discussing the role if any our creedless faith has in the 21
st
century. It seems thatone of the main currents in this conversations focuses on one of the principle weaknesses of liberaltheology is its focus on the individual to the exclusion of the community.
A 1998 survey of more than 10,000 Unitarian universalist… show how deeply individualism run [in our faith communities] One question asked, “what role has your congregation played most importantly
 
in your life? By far t
he largest single response was “It supports my views and upholds my values” The
most individualist of the possible choices. Liberalism in these contexts holds up diversity to a standpointwhere at times we resist any notions of commonality.
iv
 Our commitment to individualism goes so far that some UU congregations have even decided not to take astance on social justice issues. Because we can not all agree, they seem to believe that it was our religiousduty to simple say nothing at all. We also resist saying that we can even agree upon anything. Even ourprinciples at times are not a place of common agreement. I have even heard people say they are not evenimportant.Because of the religious freedom that liberal faith creates liberals tend take their religious commitmentsand beliefs lightly.
Paul Rasor in his book Faith without Certainty
This also reflect the liberalcommitment to open-
ended inquiry …This same tendency can produce personal belief systems or 
 
theologies articulate in generalized ideas, perhaps sincerely felt, but often without a deep grounding or 
much specific content”
 
v
It creates a place that places in the middle not an answer but a question mark.
 
A Future of Our Free Faith-Sermon Delivered Sept 4
th
2011First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawaby Sean Neil-BarronIt is here that my religious impasse crystalizes. My dream of UU is not a religion who
doesn’t stand
 
for anything, that simply dissolves into a postmodern potluck of religious /spiritual beliefs. I believe thatwe have a meta-narrative, a core that we can all share together.Curis Murphy a former youth in this congregation and current seminarian wrote in the spring issues
of the Canadian Unitarian “
As someone who grew up in this tradition I have come to feel an emptiness inall this space. In our persistent emphasis on values such as liberalism, individuality, and progress
 — 
for methese are wounded words
 —we may be giving ourselves very little to which we may hold firm”. I have tosay I agree with him. He goes on “I’m delighted to know that it is probably something different for each of 
us. And yet I sometimes have the impression that we put more energy into not enforcing particular beliefsthan we do into creating something worth believing. Depth, stability, and truth do not need to be rigid oroppressive. They can be warm and human, with a heartbeat. I need a center so that I can have something to
embrace.”
It is this Centre that Curtis talks about that I believe is our story. I think because of our roots inpolitical liberalism, and the huge value that we put into diversity we seem to overlook the need for acommunal story. This does not mean we develop a rigid lifeless creed, it seemly states that weacknowledge the commonality of our theological outlook.Our story can be a powerful one. It can also be a story that explains beyond simply a believe inpluralism.
It is a story that’s change
s and evolves as we do. It is a story that we create together.During a recent trip to Halifax as part of my work with the Student Christian Movement, we were leading aworkshop on the intersection of faith and activism.One of the participants was a member of the Metropolitan Community Church, and invited us toattend. The MCC is a Christian denomination, which
was founded in the 1970’s to be a safe place for 
LGBT Christians to worship. During the service, Communion was served. Now Communion, or Eucharistis not a concept that we have within UU in the same way as in Christian denomination nor is it one that Ican say I totally understand or generally want to participate in. I feel awkward, that it is not my place totake part in another faiths religious ritual.However, as the Minister introduced that this Communion sacrament she talked about the nature of communion. That Jesus regularly broke break with misfits and outcasts. That this was symbolized in thisritual. That in this church communion is open to all. That it is a time where all are equal. That communiondestroys all hierarchy, and places all persons on the same level. That Eucarist is but one communal ritualthat connects all members to one another, to their faith, and to God. This was an explanation that resonatedwith me, so I decided to take my first communion. Know being a UU without previous Christianexperience lead me to not really know what to expect.I went up to receive it, and the server, after he gave me the host, placed his hands on me. I willadmit I was a bit confused about why he was doing this.He leaned in and started to speak affirmations for my life and me. He told me I had a beautiful soulthat I was loved, and that here was a community that would welcome and accept me for who I was.It was a moment that almost brought me to tears. Here was a complete stranger who was affirmingmy being, my inherent worth for simply being. It was here where I truly started to understand what Itmeant and the importance of being part of a story. To be part of a narrative that affirms me, and ties mylife, my story into the lives and stories of many.

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