Thursday, January 15, 2009

Funds for Unitarian Universalist Lay Theological Education

I recently received a request from Doug Muder, fellow Unitarian Universalist blogger and member of the UU Lay Theological Education Task Force. The Task Force is charged with determining what to do with the money collected on Association Sunday earmarked for "lay theological education." He is asking UU bloggers for help in getting an Association-wide discussion started about what needs "lay theological education" ought to satisfy. Here is some of Doug's specific language.

What I'm hoping to see is a lot of testimony by and discussion about individual UU's who find themselves at a plateau. They're happy with Unitarian Universalism as far as it goes and as far as they understand it, but they feel a call to go deeper and they don't know how to answer it. Maybe they've been trying to answer by doing more: joining committees, starting projects, and so on. But outer work at some point needs to be balanced with some inner work...In the discussions the task force has had among ourselves, we talk a lot about the gap between the kinds of adult ed you'd find at a typical UU church and the far more arduous program of a divinity school. What could we offer the person who wants to go deeper, but can't take years out of his/her life and spend tens of thousands of dollars? That's the "lay" part of "lay theological education."

As a person who did lay youth ministry for 15 years before deciding to enter seminary, I can see the powerful need in our movement for lay theological education. So, here is my take on the matter, and I encourage you loyal readers to comment as well.

Religions have an orientation in time. Some focus mostly on the past, looking to ancient leaders and texts for guidance. Others focus primarily on being present in the now. For me, Unitarian Universalism is fairly unique in having a mostly future focus. We believe that we can make our lives better. We advocate for more justice and love while ever searching for answers to the mysteries of the universe. This is an enormous strength and one that additional funding could help us capitalize on.

The tsunami of technological change brings wonderful possibilities. At the same time, those who fail to keep up will be engulfed and swept away. Unitarian Universalists should be at the very forefront in the use of technology. At the operational level, our web pages should be excellent. Our publications should be openly accessible to all and cover every conceivable topic of interest to current and prospective members. We should be a leader in cyber-community building, relieving us of the crushing burden of maintaining expensive physical plants and allowing members from all walks of life and situations to be in fellowship with us. We have some incredibly gifted and dedicated folk out there who simply need a helping hand distributing the fruits of their labor to others.

We should end the "conflict" between science and religion by modeling how the two can walk the same road together. Our curricular offerings should work to combine learning with spiritual practice whenever possible and eliminate dualistic, "either-or" thinking wherever it arises. The vision of liberal religion is a world where people are free to self-actualize in an environment free of oppression and preventable hardship. Religious education curricula should move beyond "UU 101" types of courses to offerings that delve deeper and offer lay leaders richer development.

In a more futurist vein, we are the one religion poised to explore the deep questions of the nature of humanity. In our lifetimes, we will face the real promise and challenge of our evolution into a transhuman state, as technology becomes intertwined with our biological and mental processes and as the nature of consciousness is explored. The potential for interaction and understanding at a quantum level offers us the opportunity to craft worship experiences never before possible in human history and perhaps find ways to create revolutionary change in society without the need for violence and destruction.

Lastly, I'll put in my plug for making some funds available to youth also exploring lay theological development. Faith development in the teen years is rich and vibrant. Teens could benefit from funding for travel opportunities, or the chance to develop their own service projects.

3 comments:

Doug Muder said...

Thanks Jeff. I hope your readers comment at length. I'm trying to maintain a list of bloggers who are discussing this topic at uulte.blogspot.com so that the Association-wide discussion is easy to follow.

adelheid said...

My husband and I had a bit of a disagreement about your term "religious atheism". Naturally he doesn't believe that there can be such a thing because he believes the definition of religion includes belief in a higher power or deity. Further he says that he can't discuss such a thing without common terminology and understanding of definition. I'd like to propose some sort of curriculum concerning the definitions that we use and the differences with the rest of the theological world. I've run into this before with my father and his Christian faith but we've been able to find a common ground on some things. Maybe even something about finding common ground with those in Judeo-Christian religions. I think that there are common threads based in our uncommon usages. I don't know if I'm making sense but maybe my comment will spark other ideas.

Jeff Liebmann said...

One of the frustrations I experience often is our fixation over terminology. I am working right now with a group of Unitarian Universalist seminary colleagues on a book project that will explore the nature of our beliefs as prospective ministers whose world view is that of a religion without god.

My answer for your husband is that the root of the word "religion" is the Greek "ligio" which is the same root for the world ligament. Religion is about belief and practice that connects us and binds us together. As a Unitarian Universalist atheist, for me religion means living in covanent with others traveling a similar path, all striving to build loving community.